“The fight for batting honors is so close now that Hickman, McGraw, and Burkett have all won the crown of the King of Swat within the past week.” “As Fandom Likes It,” Cincinnati Post, August 29, 1899, p2
“The New King of Swat” (Headline). Cincinnati Post, October 18, 1899, p2
No earliest use given in 2009 Dickson Baseball Dictionary
NOTE: The Dictionary defines the term as “A nickname applied to sluggers; specif., Ed Delahanty and Babe Ruth.” In its earliest uses it was used to mean the leader in batting average. Jesse Burkett and John McGraw — noted in the first citation — finished second and third behind Delahanty in the National League in 1899. Charlie Hickman, who was listed with them in the August article, finished between Delahanty and Burkett but had only 63 at bats on the season.
The October 18th article, which appeared three days after the end of the season, notes a distinction between the hard hits made by Delahanty and the many bunts that helped the averages of other hitters.
“‘Delahanty,’ says John A. McPhee, the G.O.M. [Grand Old Man] of the game, ‘is undoubtedly the greatest hitter of them all. Keeler and Burkett and other left-handers beat out many a bunt, but ‘Del’ hammers out his hits and earns his way to first by solid drives.'”
The term continued to be used for the leaders in batting average — solid hitters and bunters alike — in subsequent years.
There is one earlier appearance of the term “King of Swat,” in January 1899, but it is used to refer to “Swat” as organized baseball as a whole, whose king “looks down on a troubled monarchy” whose attendance had dropped off the previous season after attention turned toward the war with Spain. There were later uses of “Kingdom of Swat,” “King Swat,” and “Old King Swat” in the same way.
These terms are almost certainly a play on the “kingdom” of Swat, now a region of Pakistan, and its ruler. (The ruler was known locally as the akhund but referred to in the west as “king” or “sultan.”) See Kingdom of Swat / Old King Swat / King Swat and Sultan of Swat.
The nickname “Sultan of Swat,” most closely associated with Babe Ruth but used earlier to refer to others, was not applied to baseball players until at least 1911. Ruth was first called the “King of Swat” in 1919, a year before he was first called “Sultan of Swat.”
Believe it or not, the first uses of both of these nicknames for Ruth were by cartoonist and columnist Robert Ripley who would became best known as the creator of Ripley’s Believe it or Not.