Posted: Wed August 13, 1997|
When Seattle's Randy Johnson fanned 19 White Sox batters last
Friday night, he tied the major league single-game strikeout
record for lefties--for the second time this year. The Big
Unit's big night would have been a rare event not too long ago,
but now it's almost commonplace. Until Bob Feller did it in
1938, no pitcher in the modern era had struck out 18 in a single
game. Twenty-one years passed before Sandy Koufax matched
Feller's mark. But in the 1990s the 18-K mark has been reached
or exceeded six times.
Similarly, before this year the only Yankee ever to strike out
16 or more in a game was Ron Guidry, who whiffed 18 in 1978.
This year, two Yankees pitchers, David Wells and David Cone,
struck out 16 within a month of each other. Double-digit outings
have become so routine for pitchers that even rookies are
getting into the act. Two weeks ago Steve Woodard of the Brewers
struck out 12 in his first major league start, matching the
American League record for K's in a debut, which was set in 1915.
Throughout the majors, in fact, strikeouts have increased at a
frightening pace. Fans have seen an average of 13 K's a game
this season. In 1980 the average was less than 10. Why the
proliferation of whiffs? "I think the Number 1 reason is, guys
are not shortening their swings enough," says Brewers hitting
coach Lamar Johnson. "They're swinging way too hard with two
That just makes matters easier for pitchers. "You've got guys
who aren't home run hitters who are taking big swings with two
strikes," says Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. "They all
think they're home run hitters."
Remember when big leaguers used to kick dirt and hang their
heads in mortification when they struck out? They're not any
longer. "There's no stigma attached to striking out anymore,"
says Cubs manager Jim Riggleman. "When I played, someone who
struck out 80 or 100 times had a lot of strikeouts. Now 100
strikeouts is pretty routine."
The reason everyone is trying to hit home runs is that homers
command the big money when players go to arbitration. "You used
to have just your number 3 and 4 batters hitting home runs, and
most of the rest of your guys trying to put the ball in play,"
says Astros manager Larry Dierker. "But now you see catchers
swinging from their rears, shortstops swinging from their rears.
Everybody's trying to hit homers."
According to Phillies batting coach Hal McRae, many of today's
players have fundamental flaws in their swings. These hitters
hold their cocked elbows high and their bats in a vertical
position, he says, lengthening their swings to try to generate
more bat speed. "The longer the swing, the more probability
you'll strike out," says McRae. "The old-timers used more of a
flat starting position, so they had a shorter swing." Next game
you watch, think about the way Pete Rose used to hold the bat,
and see how many batters do the same. It won't be many, even
when they have two strikes.
The concept of selfless offensive play has, regrettably, gone
the way of the $3 bleacher seat. "Guys just don't care about
fundamentals the way they used to," says McRae. "You don't see
guys hitting the ball to the right side to move the runners
over. Guys don't bunt like they should. Everybody just swings
away, and you see the results. If you connect, great. If you
don't, well, it's just another out."
Issue date: August 18, 1997