24th June 17:37
There's a heavy whiff of K's in the air
Saturday, September 13, 2003
The Dallas Morning News
There once was a time when major league hitters were ashamed to strike out
In 1970, when San Francisco's Bobby Bonds fanned 189 times to set a record
that has stood for 33 years, he was one of only 27 major league players
that year to strike out at least 100 times, and one of only three to whiff
It was an amazing total, especially compared to, say, 1925. That's when
Cleveland's Joe Sewell struck out only four times in an incredible 699
plate appearances, and the majors' strikeout leader was the Cubs' Gabby
Hartnett, with 77.
By 1929, when Sewell fanned only four times in 672 plate appearances and
even went 115 consecutive games without a strikeout, things were starting
to get ugly. The appropriately nicknamed Hack Wilson suffered the
indignity of leading the majors in strikeouts with 83.
If there is any doubt times have changed, consider that with two weeks
left in this season, 41 players already have struck out at least 100
times. The record for 100-K players is 77, set in 2001. There were 73
100-K players last season, which also beat the previous record of 69 such
players in 1999.
At this pace, this season will end with 62 100-K players, including five
who surpass 150.
"It used to be, with 100 strikeouts, next spring [teammates] were just
unmerciful on you in stretching," said manager Buck Showalter, whose
hard-swinging Rangers are on pace to have five 100-K men. "Now, as long as
you hit 30 home runs, it's almost like a badge of honor."
Reggie Jackson led the American League in strikeouts five times and fanned
at least 100 times in 18 of his 20 full seasons. Even so, the majors'
all-time strikeout leader (2,597) also hit 563 home runs and struck out
once every 3.8 at-bats.
This year's leader, Pittsburgh third baseman Jose Hernandez, is fanning
once every 2.98 at-bats. Hernandez has 146 home runs in 12 seasons, which
hardly justifies a career strikeout rate of once every 3.28 at-bats.
"When I came up 30 years ago, you better not strike out 100 times if your
name wasn't Reggie Jackson or Dave Kingman," Reds manager Bob Boone told
the Cincinnati Enquirer earlier this season. "Now, second ba***** strike
out 100 times. It's not something you can correct with a blackboard
Boone never did find a way to correct it. The Reds are on pace for a
franchise-record 1,337 strikeouts and rank 25th among the 30 teams in runs
scored, cir***stances that helped get Boone, GM Jim Bowden and hitting
coach Tom Robson fired July 29.
Strikeouts by sluggers are nothing new. Jimmie Foxx led the AL in
strikeouts seven times, Babe Ruth five times. Five players have even won
MVP awards while leading their league in strikeouts, the most recent being
the Cubs' Sammy Sosa in 1998.
But the sharp spike in strikeouts by non-cleanup hitters is what is
relatively new. Among the top 100 strikeout victims in baseball history,
21 are active players, including four in the top 20. Another 32 are
players who retired within the last 10 years, including six in the top 20.
Incredibly, the club record for strikeouts for 25 of the 30 teams has been
set since 1996. And the Philadelphia Phillies are on pace to add their
name to that list this season.
As recently as 1972, only Mickey Mantle and Harmon Killebrew had struck
out 1,500 times. Today, 33 players have already passed that milestone, and
the retired Tony Phillips just missed (1,499).
What can stop this epidemic?
"It's a mind-set, to be honest," Cubs first baseman Eric Karros told the
Chicago Sun-Times. "If you are willing to make some adjustments, you can
change. You bear down more with two strikes. You don't swing for the
fences every time."
With two weeks left in this season, Pittsburgh's Jose Hernandez was on
pace for 183 strikeouts and Philadelphia's Jim Thome for 181. The highest
season strikeout totals in major league history:
No. Player Year
189 Bobby Bonds 1970
188 Jose Hernandez 2002
187 Bobby Bonds 1969
187 Preston Wilson 2000
186 Rob Deer 1987
185 Pete Incaviglia 1986
185 Jose Hernandez 2001
185 Jim Thome 2001
182 Cecil Fielder 1990
181 Mo Vaughn 2000
180 Mike Schmidt 1975
AL top ten, as of today:
C Delgado 128 35
M Cameron 127 17
J Giambi 127 38
D Young 123 28
A Soriano 120 29
R Baldelli 119 10
B. Boone 116 33
A Rodriguez 114 43
M Teixeira 111 22
F Thomas 111 40