“Any one of half a dozen sluggers can bring forward thousands of admirers who will talk until they are black in the face to prove that their man is the one and original Sultan of Swat.” “Kay, World’s Best Hitter,” Elmira Star-Gazette, March 31, 1911, p8
NOTE: Among the players noted in this article are Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, Nap Lajoie, Honus Wagner, and Sherry Magee. But the article says the “real ruler…a man whom a lot of American leaguers will swear cannot be beaten as a slugger pure and simple” is a former Washington Senator named Bill Kay. Kay played one year with the Senators in 1907, batting .333 with no home runs in 60 at bats. He played parts of 13 years in the minors, the last in 1925 when he was 47 years old.
Previous earliest use (Dickson Baseball Dictionary, 3rd edition, 2009):
1920. “While the Sultan of Swat had been dormant in the early innings, his brother Yanks were the same.” (The New York Times, June 28, p.18; Barry Popik).
NOTE: This and related 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 King of Swat and Kingdom of Swat / Old King Swat / King Swat
The earliest known reference to Ruth as the “Sultan of Swat” appeared 20 days before the citation noted by Popik. It was in a cartoon by Robert Ripley, who created numerous sports cartoons before becoming more famous as the creator of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”