Get a whiff this. If Marlins centerfielder Preston Wilson keeps striking out at the rate he did over the first half of the season, he will fan nearly as many times in one year than Hall of Famer Nellie Fox did in his 19-year career. On track for 215 punchouts (Fox K'd 216 times), Wilson finally seems to have found something he can't miss: Bobby Bonds's record of 189 strikeouts in 1970. Wilson was hitting .260 and whiffing .350. The likelihood of setting such a notorious record, however, troubles Wilson, 25, and the Marlins not at all. "Oh, I fully expect him to break it," Florida manager John Boles says.
"I don't worry about that," Wilson says. "I'd rather set the strikeout record and help the team win by driving in runs than just go up there and try to cut down on strikeouts. That would be selfish."
Ho, hum. A hundred strikeouts, one of the last great taboos of hitting, has gone mainstream. No one blanches at a 100-whiff season, a mark of dishonor only a decade ago. With the boom in home runs has come the acceptance of the strikeout as their tariff. "It's the price you pay," says Wilson, who is on pace to hit 35 homers and drive in 116 runs-career highs.
Last season 26 of the 45 players who hit 30 or more homers also struck out at least 100 times; overall 71 batters hit the century mark in K's. Despite all the advances in video analysis and instruction, hitters whiff more now than ever before—there have been 13.07 strikouts per game this year, or one out of every four outs. Wilson is the extreme example of today's grip-it-and-rip-it batting culture. Baseball is producing better sluggers, not necessarily better hitters, who've made the strikeout shameless. Boles, for instance, has no plans to curtail Wilson's playing time in September if the record is within reach.
"He can hit the ball as far as anybody and he'll be an impact player," Boles says. "I'd rather accentuate those positives than worry about a negative."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]