MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Swing and miss: K's part and parcel of game

Swing and miss: K's part and parcel of game

A bottle of champagne on ice sat in front of Royals first baseman Steve Balboni's locker in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park on that night of Aug. 21, 1984. The Royals were just beaten by Roger Clemens and the Red Sox, 11-1.

So what's to celebrate?

"Ask Mac," Balboni said, nodding toward teammate Hal McRae.

McRae broke into a grin.

"You know how powerful a hitter he is?" McRae asked the media. "He's so powerful that he struck out for the 100th time tonight, and he's still in the lineup every day. You got to be good for that to happen."

Balboni, whose 36 home runs in 1985 remain a franchise record, struck out 139 times that season, the first of three 100-plus strikeout totals in a row.

"Actually, with me on 98 strikeouts and Clemens pitching, Mac had it on ice before the game,'' said a smiling Balboni. "But he had it on ice after the games the next two seasons."

Ah, the way things were. It used to be 100 strikeouts represented a red flag for managers. A consistent lack of contact by the hitter led to a lack of confidence by the manager.

Not anymore. Now, reaching 200 strikeouts doesn't even seem to be taboo.

The 200-K level has been surpassed in six of the past seven seasons, including Mark Reynolds leading the Majors in strikeouts with a single-season record 223 in 2009, 211 in '10 and 204 in '08. Retired slugger Adam Dunn of the White Sox came up one short of the single-season record with 222 strikeouts in '12. Chris Carter of Houston led the Majors with 212 in '13 and Drew Stubbs of Cincinnati had 205 in '11.

A year ago, Ryan Howard broke the 200-whiffs trend. He led the big leagues with 190 strikeouts.

In 2015, with the season roughly one-fifth completed, seven players finished Sunday on pace to strike out 200 times -- led by Chris Davis of the Orioles (48), Carter (47), the Rays' Steven Souza Jr. (46) and the Cubs' Jorge Soler (45). Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton has struck out 44 times, the Tigers' J.D. Martinez 41 times, and the A's Brett Lawrie 40 times.

Davis has 23 more strikeouts than he does hits (25), and he has struck out 19 times in his past nine games.

Vince DiMaggio struck out 134 times for the Boston Red Sox in 1938, which was the record until Jim Lemon of the Senators struck out 138 times in '56. The record became less stable in the 1960s, beginning with Jake Wood striking out what was a record 141 times in '61.

By 1969, Bobby Bonds of the Giants raised the record to 187, and the next year, he upped it to 189. That figure is now tied for 17th on the single-season strikeout list.

Blame it on Reggie Jackson.

"The road to the Hall of Fame is paved in strikeouts," Jackson once said.

Jackson, who is in the Hall of Fame, is the all-time strikeout leader with 2,597, and he led the Majors in strikeouts in 1968 (171), '69 (142), '70 (135), '71 (161) and in 1982 (156). He is one of only six Hall of Famers to lead a league in strikeouts, joining Mike Schmidt, Willie Stargell, Duke Snider, Harmon Killebrew and Mickey Mantle.

Jackson is one of five Hall of Famers among the top 20 in all-time strikeouts. Stargell is eighth (1,936), Schmidt is 10th (1,883), Tony Perez is 12th (1,867) and Craig Biggio is 20th (1,753).

There is that image that power hitters are free swingers and strike out a lot. Yet there have been 45 instances since 1901 that a player with at least 20 home runs had more homers than strikeouts, according to baseball-reference.com. Though it has happened only twice since 1956, when Yogi Berra of the Yankees (30 home runs, 29 strikeouts) and Ted Kluszewski of the Reds (35 home runs and 31 strikeouts) accomplished the feat. Barry Bonds hit 45 home runs in 2004 with the Giants while striking out 41 times. George Brett hit 24 home runs and struck out 22 times with the Royals in 1980.

It happened five times in the 1920s, 14 times in the '30s, 11 times in the '40s and 13 times in the '50s, according to Stats Inc.

That mirrors the trend for free-swingers who strike out. Only nine players struck out 150 or more times in the 1960s, led by Bobby Bonds with 187 in '69. There were five instances in the 1970s, led by Bonds with 189 in '70. It wasn't until this century that a player stuck out at least 190 times in a season, and it's happened 10 times in the past 15 years.

In fact, there were 28 instances of a player striking out at least 150 times in the 1980s, 36 in the '90s, 79 in the first decade of the 21st century and 82 in the past five years.

"Home run hitters drive Cadillacs, and singles hitters drive Fords," Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner was credited with saying.

The modern-day player appears to have been paying attention to Kiner.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.