Former home run king Hank Aaron offered his opinion on the increase in strikeouts around Major League Baseball. Let’s just say it wasn’t a sparkling defense of players willingly sacrificing consistent contact for added power numbers.
The Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves legend was on hand before Game 3 of the World Series to present the prestigious award named in his honor, which recognizes the best hitter in each league as voted by the fans and media. This year the award went to J.D. Martinez of the Boston Red Sox and Christian Yelich of the Milwaukee Brewers. Together, Martinez and Yelich hit a combined 79 home runs this season, while striking out a combined 281 times.
The latter number is the sign of the times. MLB saw strikeout numbers rise for the 11th straight season. Though he didn’t address Martinez and Yelich’s numbers directly, Aaron had a succinct two-word response when asked about the league-wide strikeout increase.
Hank Aaron on players striking out 150-200 times a year: “It’s embarrassing.”
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) October 26, 2018
It’s not a surprising response from a hitter who always took pride in putting the baseball in play. It sure is an honest one though. Despite hitting a then MLB record 755 home runs over his 23-year MLB career, which included 15 seasons with at least 30 home runs, Aaron never topped 100 strikeouts once. To further highlight his consistency, he only topped 80 strikeouts four times.
In this era, we often associate home runs with strikeouts. If a player produces a lot of the former, it’s certainly much easier to overlook the latter. Teams don’t mind so much if a batter doesn’t cut down on his swing looking to make contact with two strikes if it means increasing the odds of a long ball. But Aaron comes from an era where players never wanted to make that walk back to the dugout with bat in hand.
Hank Aaron: "That was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, to go to the plate and strike out once or twice."
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) April 7, 2014
Hank Aaron on striking out: “I didn’t crack my bat on my leg or try to chew it up, but I felt embarrassed.”
— J.P. Hoornstra (@jphoornstra) October 26, 2018
The words mean something coming from Aaron considering he was able to maintain his power despite often taking a defensive approach to hitting. But he did also credit today’s pitchers for their role in making life more difficult on hitters.
Aaron: ‘I told Willie Mays that if he and I were playing they’d probably be sending us to Class D ball’ because of the quality of pitchers’ stuff now.
— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) October 26, 2018
We think Hank Aaron and Willie Mays would hold up just fine in today’s game. But with pitchers throwing harder and with roles more specialized than ever, it would be interesting to see what approach both legends brought to today’s game. As great as they were, perhaps they would find out that producing in 2018 might mean striking out at uncomfortable levels.
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