June 8, 2000
The Strikeout Chase
Reggie in Their Sights
Reggie Jackson is way ahead of #2 Willie Stargell, 2,597 to 1,936, but some major leaguers are closing fast. Mike Schmidt has 1,883 and Tony Perez's election to the Hall of Fame with 1,867 strikeouts means that now-#5 Dave Kingman's 1,816 whiffs are the most by any eligible player not in the Hall. Perhaps someday, a committee of fans will move to rectify that oversight as the BBWAA did with Perez.
Here are some prominent strikeout artists still playing in the major leagues, or on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the case of Jose Canseco and Fred McGriff. Strikeouts are as of June 5 and the three-year average is 1997 through 1999.
John Olerud's tutoring of Alex Rodriguez gives him amazing potential. Rodriguez's patience at the plate has improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio, but has also increased his strikeouts to nearly one per game. If that trend holds, he could pass Jackson in 2013 or 2014.
If Sammy Sosa breaks the record, it will be unclear if it will be tainted by the improved ability of players to strike out these days. Jackson had to strike out more than 100 times a year for 19 straight years (with the exception of strike year 1981) without the advantage of constantly facing fresh relief pitchers in the late innings.
Jackson was a dedicated strikeout batter, even striking out 97 times playing part time as a DH for the Oakland A's in 1987. He had 100-strikeout seasons for four different teams in three different decades. Others may argue that Jackson holds the record in a Harold Bainesian manner of endurance, because he only had four seasons in which he averaged more than a strikeout a game. Perhaps I'm too sentimental, but I feel that there's more meaning to Reggie's accomplishment, which was done at a time when it was really something special to strike out 150 times in a season.