Swing and a miss!
When you hear somebody mention 200 strikeouts being achieved, usually you think of a pitcher who is hitting a milestone marker for excellence in a particular season. Some guys even do it as a annual right of passage (i.e. John Smoltz), but I can tell you unequivocally one scenario in which you do not want to be racking up 200 strikeouts in a season…
Or you could just ask Arizona’s Mark Reynolds, who struck out for the 200th time in the second inning of the Diamondbacks contest against Joel Pineiro of the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday. That sets a new mark for futility that sluggers had somehow managed to avoid in the entire storied history of Major League Baseball. Let that soak in for a minute. Reynolds has done something that no other man in the history of the sport has ever done! When do you think the next time that could possibly happen again could be?
How does this weekend work for you?
Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard, who is known throughout the game for his mammoth home runs and frequent u-turns at home plate, sits on 196 punch-outs this season. So Reynolds may not be alone at the top, if you can call it that, for very long. Howard set the single season record last year, when he fanned an eye-popping 199 times in the regular season and tacked on seven more for good measure in the Division Series. One could make an argument that Howard’s 206 would be the actual mark for a calender year, done in only 147 total games.
Reynolds finished Thursday with 201 total strikeouts in his 148 games, so if the slight difference in his rate of futility and Howard’s is any consolation… nevermind. On a more serious note, I find it fascinating that hitters were able to avoid the mythical 200 K mark in a season for more than 130 years. As the game has evolved and power has been pushed to the forefront of seemingly everyone’s evaluation of a hitter’s “strength” and/or value to his club, this single season record has continued to climb.
The last 50 years has seen the most shuffling at the top of the list for the single season strike-out record holder. In fact, only three men held the slot from 1884 to 1955. The first man to hold the single-season record was Sam Wise, who set the bar at 104 during that 1884 season while playing for the Boston Beaneaters (now the Atlanta Braves). Gus Williams surpassed Wise in 1914 and went on to hold the record through the 1937 season after striking out 120 times for the St. Louis Browns. One year later, Williams was out of baseball.
Another Brave took the reigns in 1938. Vince DiMaggio, of the then-Boston Bees, would hold the mark of 134 until 1955. From there, eight men would emerge to set a new level swinging and missing over the next 53 years. Bobby Bonds and his 189 whiffs in 1969 set the mark for the longest period of time for any one player (34 years) before the torch was passed to Adam Dunn in 2004. Dunn notched a head-turning 195 punch-outs and held the record for a brief three year trial run. Then there was Howard and you know the rest.
It’s pretty clear that Howard is going to continue his shtick of long balls and long swings over the course of his career. In his 569 career games, Howard has accumulated 689 punch-outs. Most dead-ball era historians probably considered Babe Ruth‘s 3-strike exploits to be the pinnacle of decadence that flew in the face of fundamental baseball. Ruth went down on strikes 1,330 times and was the all-time record holder until Mickey Mantle took him off the hook in 1964. Howard is on pace to obliterate that number by the time his seventh full season is in the books. Oh, and Ruth’s career was 22 seasons long, by the way.
Who knows, Howard could end up taking a swing, and I mean that very literally, at Reggie Jackson and his record of 2,597.
Digest all that, while I try to rid myself of my penchant for parentheses in literary settings.
Till next time,