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Jose, can you see?

Hernandez closing in on single-season strikeout record

Posted: Thursday September 19, 2002 11:40 AM
Updated: Tuesday September 24, 2002 2:23 AM

No-contact Zone
Single-season strikeout leaders
Player (Season)   Ks  
Bobby Bonds (1970) 189
Jose Hernandez (2002) 188
Bobby Bonds (1969) 187
Preston Wilson (2000) 187
Rob Deer (1991) 186
Jose Hernandez (2001) 185
Pete Incaviglia (1986) 185
Jim Thome (2001) 185
Cecil Fielder (1990) 182
Mo Vaughn (2000) 181

By John Donovan,

Jose Hernandez has a big old swing and he's not about to change it. His team needs him to drive in runs -- heck, the Brewers need anybody to drive in runs -- and Hernandez figures he can't do that by choking up or beating the ball into the turf.

So Hernandez swings, and misses, and swings, and misses, and swings some more and misses some more like nobody has ever swung and missed before.

Not Babe Ruth. Not Reggie Jackson. Not Jim Thome or Bo Jackson or Sammy Sosa. Not Bobby Bonds.

Jose Hernandez is about to strike a blow for all who have struck out -- a lot. The Brewers' shortstop, in fact, is about to strike out more than anyone ever has in the course of a single season.

"If it happens, it happens," he says. "If it doesn't, it doesn't."

That's the beauty -- or the frustration -- of the strikeout in today's swing-for-the-fences brand of baseball. Nobody cares anymore. Nobody cares if someone strikes out 125, 130, 150 times in a season.

Nobody cares because everyone figures that the few times these big swingers actually do connect are worth all the times that they don't. Hernandez, an All-Star, had 24 home runs and 71 RBIs after Monday's game. He was hitting .284. His manager, Jerry Royster, is not worried about Hernandez setting the all-time mark for whiffing.

"I can't take one of my best hitters out of the game to avoid a record," he says.

Of course not. The Brewers had lost 102 games. Taking out one of his best hitters would be disastrous.

Hernandez is chasing Bonds' single-season mark of 189 strikeouts, set in 1970. Back then, striking out that many times was downright scandalous. Back then, striking out that many times was actually something to be semi-ashamed about.

These days it happens with alarming regularity. Well, alarming for everyone outside of baseball. Of the six worst seasons for striking out, three have come since 2000. Hernandez would have broken Bonds' mark last year, but his manager at the time, Davey Lopes, sat him down so he wouldn't break it. Preston Wilson of the Florida Marlins would have done it, too, in 2000 but manager John Boles chose to bench him.

"In the modern era of baseball, the strikeout is no big deal," Hall of Fame slugger Mike Schmidt, who struck out 180 times in 1975, told the Palm Beach Post a few years ago. "Hitters are striking out ridiculous amounts now, but on the same token they're hitting home runs in ridiculous amounts. So they go hand in hand."

If Hernandez does not sit, he will end up crushing Bonds' mark. He could strike out more than 200 times. He doesn't seem to mind. Neither does Royster. Does anyone?

When the record falls, soon, and Hernandez strides back to the dugout after a strikeout for the 190th time this season, you can count on one thing.

The next time up, he'll be swinging big again.

Human Air Conditioners
Reggie Jackson: 2,597 career strikeouts
Mr. October is the career leader in strikeouts by a mile (Jose Canseco is No. 2 at 1,942). But Jackson is also eighth in homers all-time, with 563. One of the most feared sluggers to ever play, he once gave this explanation for striking out so much: "Live big, die big."

Walter Iooss Jr.
Bobby Bonds: 189 strikeouts in 1970
Bonds, like his son, was a complete player. He was a five-time 30/30 man. In his first full season (1969), he hit 32 homers, stole 45 bases -- and fanned a record 187 times. The next year, he topped himself with 189 strikeouts. He never had more than 148 after that.

Sheedy & Long
Gorman Thomas: 3.49 at-bats per strikeouts
The 1970s brought all-or-nothing hitters like Dave Kingman, Greg Luzinski and Thomas. A lifetime .225 hitter, Stormin' Gorman struck out 1,339 times in 4,677 at-bats, the highest strikeout per at-bat ratio in history. "The fans come to see me strike out, hit a home run or run into a fence," he once said.

Tony Triolo
Jose Hernandez: 188 strikeouts in 2002
With strikeout No. 187 last Wednesday, Hernandez broke Rob Deer's franchise record. Manager Jerry Royster then held Hernandez out of the lineup for the rest of the homestand. Royster did not appreciate the 188 "K" placards hung in the right-field stands. Hernandez returned to the lineup Monday, making contact in all three at-bats.

Tom Pigeon/Allsport