There are notable exceptions to this trend, players who hit for power and average while holding down their strikeouts. White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas is perhaps the most disciplined all-around hitter in the game today. Last year he hit 41 homers and batted .317 but struck out only 54 times in 549 at bats. This season Thomas had, as of Sunday, 29 homers, a .377 average and 40 strikeouts.
As impressive as Thomas's numbers are, they pale in comparison with those of Joe DiMaggio, who in 1941—the year of his 56-game hitting streak—hit .357 with 30 home runs and just 13 strikeouts. Lifetime, DiMaggio hit 361 homers and struck out 369 times. Defenders of today's hitters point out that DiMaggio never saw the slider consistently or the big strikeout pitch of the last 10 years, the split-fingered fastball.
Brewer manager Phil Garner is no apologist for today's hitters, but he says the biggest difference between now and 20 years ago is relief pitching. "Guys aren't getting that fourth at bat per game against the starter," he says. "That's over 100 at bats a year against a relief specialist."
Even the Mariners' Ken Griffey Jr., who averaged 81 strikeouts a year in his first five years as a major leaguer, has fallen victim to the strikeout bug this season. While continuing his run at Roger Maris's record 61 home runs, Griffey had 50 strikeouts at week's end to go with his 32 homers, putting him on pace for 101 strikeouts and 65 homers for the year.
How About That Adam?
The following exchange was heard recently on a sports radio talk show in Dallas.
Caller: "Is that guy Alan Ashby for the Padres the same guy who used to play for Houston?"
Host: "No, it's a different Alan Ashby."
Alan Ashby, who turns 43 on July 8, was a catcher for the Astros from 1979 to '89. But the Padre in question is Andy Ashby, who turns 27 on July 11 and suddenly has become a very good pitcher. "I still get his [Alan's] fan mail," Andy Ashby says. "I think I'll change my name to Alan. Then everyone would call me Andy."
Ashby entered this season with a career record of 5-18 and a 6.77 ERA, little control and no off-speed pitch. At week's end he was 4-6 with a 2.81 ERA (third best in the National League), and last month he didn't walk a batter in one 29?-inning stretch. Last Saturday, Ashby pitched a four-hitter in beating the Mets 4-1. That was his fourth complete game in his last seven starts after he had failed to go the distance in his first 47 major league starts.