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June 8, 2000

The Strikeout Chase

Reggie in Their Sights

by Craig Elsten

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.

Active Strikeout Kings
Player Age Ks 3-Yr. Avg. Comments
Jose Canseco 35 1,812 139 Will pass Schmidt for #3 this year if healthy.
Fred McGriff 36 1,514 112 Has struck out in more ballparks than any other player with remarkable consistency.
Mark McGwire 36 1,445 152 Didn't master the strikeout until he got to the NL.
Sammy Sosa 31 1,428 172 Eight years away.
Matt Williams 34 1,183 101 A victim of injuries; won't make it.
Mo Vaughn 32 1,143 142 He won't make it: early career discipline dooms him.
Ken Griffey 30 1,034 117 Increasing his strikeouts, but too little, too late?
Juan Gonzalez 30 973 113 Strikes out less often than you'd think.
Jim Thome 29 943 153 He probably won't make it, but could end up high on the list.
Carlos Delgado 27 676 138 Ditto.
Tony Clark 27 584 135 Started too late, plus won't hold his job long enough.
Alex Rodriguez 24 543 110 Keeps increasing his TTO (Three True Outcomes), which makes him a contender.
Derek Jeter 25 501 120 He'll have to increase strikeout totals to have a chance.
Andruw Jones 23 403 113 ...and decreasing. He won't make it, but could end up in the top ten if the bar doesn't move too much.

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.

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