For batters, whiffs are rapidly losing their stigma
More players are fanning more often, underscoring growing acceptance of strikeouts
Steve Balboni surpassed 100 strikeouts in each of his first three full big league seasons with Kansas City. Each time, Hal McRae, the Royals' designated hitter, would put a bottle of champagne on ice afterward to celebrate the event.
"Well," said Balboni, "not the first year."
"The first year, we went into Boston and were facing Roger Clemens," recalled Balboni, now an advance scout with the San Francisco Giants. "I had 98 strikeouts at the time. Mac put the champagne on ice before the game."
Before the game? What happened?
"I struck out three times," said Balboni.
The champagne cork was popped.
"Hey, to strike out 100 times in a season and stay in the lineup every day is an accomplishment," McRae explained. "You need to celebrate."
How times have changed.
The strikeout was once considered a baseball taboo. Not anymore, however.
Blame it on Reggie Jackson, who was famous for swinging for fences. He missed often, but delivered more than enough to offset any negative from the strikeouts. He was, after all, labeled Mr. October by the late George Steinbrenner during the time Jackson played for the Yankees.
Jackson made good on his proclamation from his playing days that "the road to the Hall of Fame is paved with strikeouts."
Plenty of folks appear to have been listening.
Four days removed from the 2013 All-Star Game, 13 players entered play on Saturday having struck out at least 100 times, including the brothers Upton -- Justin (100) and B.J. (102) -- of the Atlanta Braves. Mike Napoli of Boston and Chris Carter of Houston led the Majors with 124 strikeouts apiece.
Underscoring the growing acceptance of the strikeout is this fact: In the first three years of the current decade, there were 52 players who struck out 150 times or more. By comparison, there were 79 players who struck out at least 150 times in the 2000s, 36 in the 1990s, 28 in the '80s, 12 in the '70s, and 10 in the '60s.
Prior to Jake Wood of Detroit striking out 141 times in 1961, the Major League record for strikeouts in a season was 134 by Vince DiMaggio of the Boston Bees in 1938. There have been 217 instances in which a player has struck out 150 or more times in Major League history, the first two being Dave Nicholson (175) and Don Lock (151) in 1963.
There have been only 13 players who have struck out 190 times in a season, the first being Adam Dunn with 195 strikeouts in 2004 with the White Sox. Mark Reynolds became the first player to break the 200 barrier in 2008, when he struck out 204 times for the D-backs -- and he has reached that mark twice since, including 211 in 2010 and a record 223 in 2009. The only other players to whiff 200 times in a season are Drew Stubbs (205 in 2011 with Cincinnati) and Dunn (222 with the White Sox in 2012).
Out of Left Field
While the Tigers are sitting atop the American League Central and possess an explosive lineup, they do not work well late. Detroit has lost 10 games in which it led in the seventh inning or later. Sure, the bullpen has allowed leads to get away. But the Tigers' offense hasn't bounced back, either. It has scored one run from the seventh inning on in those 10 defeats.
• The AL West could be decided by the Astros. Both the Rangers and A's have 10 games remaining against Houston. Texas is 7-2 against the Astros, while the A's are 9-0. Might manager Bo Porter's club become a spoiler for one of those teams?
• Are teams adjusting quickly to the Dodgers' rookie sensation Yasiel Puig? He has played in two series against Arizona, Colorado, San Diego and San Francisco. The first time he faced the four teams, he hit .455 (20-for-44) with four home runs, nine RBIs and nine strikeouts. The second time around versus L.A.'s division rivals, Puig hit .264 (14-for-53) with one home run, seven RBIs and 18 strikeouts.
• There are currently only two rookie position players -- both in the National League -- who have accumulated enough at-bats this season entering play on Saturday to qualify for the batting title: shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria of Miami, who is hitting .248 with one home run, and shortstop Pete Kozma of St. Louis, who is batting .237 with two home runs.
• Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips drove in three runs on Friday, giving him 77 for the season. It's the seventh season in which he has recorded at least 75 RBIs, tying him with Dan Uggla for the fourth most 75-plus RBI seasons for a second baseman in history. Rogers Hornsby and Jeff Kent did it 11 times each, and Ryne Sandberg did it eight times.