Once upon a time, there was nothing worse in baseball than to strike out.
The common approach to hitting was to shorten up one’s swing with two strikes, looking to put the ball in play rather than risk swinging and missing.
Times, they have changed.
Today’s hitters have a devil-may-care attitude about strikeouts and the numbers reflect this.
Bill Nicholson was an outfielder who played for the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and Philadelphia Athletics from 1936-53 and he earned the nickname “Swish” because the alarming rate at which he struck out.
That alarming rate? Once every 6.7 at-bats—828 career whiffs in 5,546 at-bats.
Nicholson never struck out more than 100 times in a season, setting a career high of 91 with the Cubs in 1941 and leading the National League with 83 strikeouts for the Cubs in 1947.
He was also a four-time All-Star who finished in the top three in the Most Valuable Player voting in 1943 and 1944 and hit 235 career home runs.
This season, among batters who currently qualify for the batting title in their respective leagues (3.1 plate appearances per team game played), there are 125—125!—who strike out more frequently than old “Swish” did.
There are 10 players in baseball this season who strike out more than once in every three at-bats, including three former All-Stars and one former Most Valuable Player.
Here is the list of today’s high-impact, low-contact hitters:
So when did it change?
While no hitter with at least 250 home runs ended their career with fewer strikeouts than home runs, there were a few who came close.
Compare that to some modern-era hitters.
Beginning with the end of World War II, let’s take a look at how the frequency of strikeouts has increased, decade by decade: