There is one thing that the top ten strikeout leaders have in common, and that is that they weren’t shy about swinging for the fences. Making the roster of the strikeout leaders doesn’t guarantee you a Hall of Fame berth, but the case can be made for every one of them to someday be admitted to Cooperstown. The strikeout leaders all hit their share of round trippers, as the lowest total of anyone in the top ten is 379. And in this age of suspected steroid use, the top ten strikeout leaders are well represented by those who have had aspersions cast their way. I will count down the top ten strikeout leaders from number ten to the all-time leader, who was once described as “looking better striking out than most players do when they hit a home run.”
10. Dave Kingman (1816) – Few players in baseball were as disliked by the media as Dave Kingman, who leads off our list of strikeout leaders. Known for being rude and downright childish when dealing with the press, Kingman nonetheless thrilled fans with his explosive power. He also struck out 100 times or more in a year 13 different seasons. His .236 lifetime average is the lowest among the strikeout leaders, but he also hit more than thirty homers six times and finished with 442. Kingman managed to play with a total of four teams in the 1977 season, including the Mets and the Yankees, and had an unusually low strikeout to walk ratio for a strikeout leader. He never walked more than 62 times in one year, and finished with only 608 bases on balls in sixteen campaigns.
9. Jim Thome(1834 and counting)- The only still active member of this group is the newly acquired Jim Thome of the White Sox, a strikeout leader in the true sense of the word as he once struck out 185 times in one year, the most by any of these whiff artists. Thome, keeping with form, is among the league leaders in strikeouts as you read this, with 72. Add that to his number coming into the season and Jim Thome has whiffed 1,834 times in his 15 Ã?Â½ years as a pro, helping him pass Kingman as a strikeout leader in 2006. Thome is enjoying a fine first season with the Pale Hose, having already hit 24 homers and knocked in 60 runs. As is the case with all of these strikeout leaders, Jim is high up on the all-time home run list as well, with 454 and counting. We are counting those strikeouts too, Jim.
8. Tony Perez (1867) – An RBI machine as well as a strikeout leader, Perez went into the Hall of Fame in 2000 on the strength of his 1867 runs batted in over 23 seasons. Tony’s long stay in baseball got him on the list of the strikeout leaders as well, as he only struck out more than 120 times twice, a low figure for these guys. His 379 home runs are the lowest total of the top ten strikeout leaders; Perez reached 40 only one time. His production at the plate dropped sharply after the 1980 season, but he continued to play as a part-timer for six more years, cementing his place as a strikeout leader.
7. Fred McGriff (1882)- The “Crime Dog” played for six teams and hit almost 500 home runs with 1,550 RBI, so it will be interesting to see if this strikeout leader gets into the Hall of Fame. From 1988 to 2002, this amazingly consistent hitter had at least 81 runs batted in each year, with a high of 107 as a Brave in 1996. Although he never once led the league in fanning, he struck out over 100 times in 13 seasons, with a couple of 99 strikeout years thrown in for good measure, assuring that he shall be recalled when future generations remember the strikeout leaders of baseball.
6. Mike Schmidt (1883) – In 18 seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, Michael Jack Schmidt led the National League in homers eight times and in strikeouts four. This three time MVP and ten time Gold Glove third sacker is one of four of the strikeout leaders that achieved the 500 home run plateau. In the Hall of Fame since 1995, Schmidt reached the century mark as a strikeout leader in 12 of his years in the sport, including 180 in 1975. Mike is the only one of the strikeout leaders to have played most of his games at a position other than first base or in the outfield. He hit .300 only once, and retired at the age of 39 in May of 1989 after he had struck out 17 times, the last one giving him his margin over McGriff.
5. Willie Stargell (1936) – “Pops”, who recently passed away in 2001 and is the only one of the strikeout leaders no longer with us, toiled 21 years as a member of the Pirates. He had two home run crowns and only one strikeout title, 154 in 1971, but became a strikeout leader when he swung and missed his way to over 100 for each year from 1965-1976. The National League co-MVP with Keith Hernandez in 1979, he also took the MVP honors that year for the National League Championship Series and the World Series, as the Bucs beat the Orioles in seven games. His 17 stolen bases in his career are the lowest of any of the strikeout leaders, as Thome has 18 to avoid the cellar in this category.
4. Jose Canseco (1942) – He has admitted to steroid use in a recently released book, making Hall of Fame election doubtful in the future, but for a while Jose Canseco was among baseball’s most feared sluggers. He hit over twenty in a year a dozen times, with 46 as a Blue Jay in 1998. He hit 42 home runs and stole 40 bases in 1988 with the A’s, the only 40-40 man of the strikeout leaders. Canseco was the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 1986 and the MVP in 1988, but is surely the only one of the strikeout leaders who had a ball bounce off his head and over the fence while playing in the outfield. The nomadic Canseco played for seven teams in his last eight years in the game.
3. Andres Gallaraga (2003) – It took the “Big Cat” only 17 plus seasons to reach the 2,000 whiff milestone, the second of the strikeout leader to scale that peak. Andres came up one long ball short of 400, and if he had not played for seven contests with the Angels in 2004, he would have finished with an even 2,000 strikeouts. His 150 runs batted in over the course of 1996 made Gallaraga the first of the top ten strikeout leaders to achieve that number. He hit .370 and won a batting title with Colorado in 1993, the highest average by far for any of these ten strikeout leaders for one season.
2. Sammy Sosa (2,194) – Another of the strikeout leaders that has faced the steroid rumors, Sosa is the only player to have three separate 60 plus home run seasons. He also struck out more than 133 times each year from 1995 through 2004! In 1997, ’98, and ’99, Sammy K’d a phenomenal 171 times twice, and 174 once. He has the two highest single season RBI totals of any of the strikeout leaders, with 160 in 2001 and 158 in 1998, his MVP year with the Cubs. He fell off dramatically at the plate in 2005, and has not played since. Sosa wound up with 588 homers, the most by any of the strikeout leaders. If he can survive the steroid scandal, he will most certainly be elected to the Hall of Fame some day.
1. Reggie Jackson (2,597) – “Mr. October” struck out over 100 times every year except for three of his 21 seasons in baseball. The Hall of Fame outfielder began with the Athletics, played for the Orioles, and became most famous while with the Yankees. He played in six World Series, winning five, the most titles by any of the strikeout leaders. Always in the middle of things, whether hitting a monumental home run in the 1971 All-Star game, hitting three homers in one World Series contest, or being held back from fighting with Billy Martin on national television, Jackson was colorful and candid. His strikeout against Dodgers’ reliever Bob Welch to end Game Two of the 1978 World Series is one of the most famous ever. Jackson got his revenge later in the Fall Classic when he homered off Welch, one of his ten World Series dingers.