There are two very unique sounds in baseball. These sounds are readily distinguishable by any baseball fan, and depending on the circumstances, can be music to their ears. The smack of hard rawhide against soft leather can echo through even the most packed stadium. And the distinct crack of a solid wooden bat sending that little white ball into oblivion plays off the ear drums unlike any sound in the world.
These sounds got me thinking about what was more exciting in baseball, a home run or a strike out?
Home runs have their own derby, a nationally televised event every year. They rocket through crisp night air and through sultry summer days. Home runs bring people to their feet and knock them to their knees.
Carlos Beltran slugged eight home runs in the 2004 post-season and, much like an old high school athlete reliving the glory days, has been living off those home runs ever since. Those eight home runs bought him a large contract in New York, to which he has underperformed. But they got him there.
Home runs are famous. Carlton Fisk kept his famous home run shot fair with a few waves of his arm and a lot of hope. Kirk Gibson, with two bad knees, sent the Dodgers to a Game 1 win in the 1988 World Series with his blast. Bobby Thompson’s shot heard ’round the world capped a come back from 12 1/2 games down to allow the Giants to win the pennant. These home runs instantly burn into our memories and are forever written in baseball history.
But then there’s the strikeout.
Strikeouts are powerful. Only the best pitchers can rear back and send a batter to the bench with a blazing fastball or a knee-buckling curve. With a leg kick so high you might think the pitcher is going to fall, or a delivery so quick the ball literally disappears, pitchers can dazzle with their talent.
Strikeouts can invigorate a crowd or demoralize an opponent. Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout performance redefined what young pitchers could accomplish. Nolan Ryan struck out so many batters, outs of any other kind were something to talk about. Stephen Strausburg blew away any doubt about his hype by striking out 14 batters in his Major League debut.
Home runs happen in almost every game, but great strikeout performances may only come once every five days. Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, and Tim Lincecum can shine on any given start. They can lock in and dominate batters with change-ups that seem like they have a string attached, cutters that defy physics, and fastballs that touch that magical triple digit range.
But does the relative rarity of a great strikeout performance make it more entertaining than a monster home run. Or do those majestic blasts into the outfield bleachers far outweigh the momentary excitement a singular strikeout can bring?
You tell me.