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End of a Record: Remembering the 2001 Milwaukee Brewers

The Arizona Diamondbacks are poised to set a major league record tonight. They enter tonight's game against the Colorado Rockies with 1397 batting strikeouts as a team, an average of 9.31 per game. The current major league record for strikeouts in a season is 1399, set by your very own 2001 Milwaukee Brewers.

The 2001 Brewers set a few notable strikeout-related records. Their 1399 whiffs eclipsed the previous record, set by the 1996 Detroit Tigers, by 131. They became the first major league team ever to finish with more strikeouts than hits (1378). They were the first major league team with three players who struck out 150 or more times. They also were the first National League team to have four or more players with 120 strikeouts. Couple all of that with only 68 wins and 2001 was truly a year to forget.

So, let's remember it.

"I don't care about strikeouts. I can tell my son and grandsons that I led the league in strikeouts. I'm supposed to play defense and offense. Strikeouts happen. It's no big deal." - Jose Hernandez, September 22, 2001

While it takes a team to strike out nearly 1400 times, no one drew more attention for his whiffing ways than shortstop Jose Hernandez. A veteran utility player for the Cubs and Braves (who traded 2001 teammate Ruben Quevedo to acquire him), Hernandez was signed to a three-year, $10 million contract by the Brewers following the 1999 season. By the time he joined the Brewers, Hernandez was already a prodigious whiffer with 555 career strikeouts in just under 2200 career trips to the plate. He struck out "only" 125 times while playing third base in 2000, but ramped up his free-swinging ways in 2001. Though he put up career bests in home runs (25) and RBI (78), he struck out a whopping 185 times, easily beating Benji Gil's record for shortstops (147 in 1995). He finished the season only four off the then-major league record for strikeouts, set by Bobby Bonds in 1970. Hernandez would follow 2001 with another career year at the plate, batting .288 with 24 home runs and making the all-star team. He finished with 188 strikeouts after being held out of the final four games of the season by Brewers manager Jerry Royster.

"Maybe I should have taken a pitch, but as much as I've been striking out I can't really afford to take a fastball and be 0-1." - Richie Sexson, July 30, 2001

While Jose Hernandez led the team in strikeouts, first baseman Richie Sexson was hot on his heels. Lanky but powerful, Sexson was acquired in July 2000 from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for pitchers Bob Wickman, Jason Bere, and Steve Woodard. He finished 2000 strong in Milwaukee, hitting .296 with 14 home runs in 57 games. He had another good season in 2001, hitting .271 and tying Gorman Thomas' team record with 45 home runs. However, if not for teammate Hernandez he would have led the league in strikeouts with 178. Though he later led the American League in strikeouts in 2005, Sexson never topped the 178 Ks of his first full season in Milwaukee.

"As players, when a hitting coach or pitching coach loses his job, you've got to put some of the blame on yourself." - Jeromy Burnitz, October 2, 2001

Right fielder Jeromy Burnitz was talking about the resignation of hitting coach Rod Carew. One of the game's greatest contact hitters, Carew wound up as one of many good players who struggled as a coach. As the above quote suggests, some of that difficulty was attributable to Jeromy Burnitz. A first-round pick of the New York Mets in 1990, Burnitz was acquired by Milwaukee from Cleveland in August 1996 in exchange for Kevin Seitzer. Seitzer spent only one more year in Cleveland, but Burnitz had five productive years in Milwaukee. Coming into 2001, Burnitz had topped 30 home runs three times, topped 100 RBI twice, and topped 90 walks twice. He also finished second in the league in strikeouts in 1998, with 158. In 2001, Burnitz hit 34 home runs and finished with exactly 100 RBI. He also struck out 150 times, making him the third Brewers hitter to finish in the top six in the NL in strikeouts. Following the season, he was traded to the New York Mets as part of a three-team trade that brought Lenny Harris, Alex Ochoa, and Glendon Rusch to Milwaukee.

"Now, you don't want to surround him with too many players who do the same thing. That's when it becomes glaring." - Brewers manager Davey Lopes, discussing Jose Hernandez's strikeouts, September 21, 2001

The Brewers did a very good job surrounding Jose Hernandez with strikeout-prone hitters. Besides Sexson and Burnitz, young left fielder Geoff Jenkins also hit triple digits, finishing at 120. Catchers Henry Blanco and Raul Casanova combined to start 142 games and struck out 101 times. Big free agent signing Jeffrey Hammonds struck out 42 times in 49 games. Veteran center fielder Devon White chipped in 95 more. Journeyman Tyler Houston hit .289 despite 62 strikeouts in 235 at bats. Fittingly, contact hitter Mark Loretta (46 K in 384 AB) couldn't find a consistent position to play. Late season call-up Kevin Brown struck out 18 times in 46 trips to the plate. You get the idea: while brand new Miller Park was not built with air conditioning, Brewers bats kept all the first-season fans cool.

"I think every team is going to have guys who drive in runs, hit home runs and strike out a lot. I think we're a particular team that has three or four of those guys who have a tendency to strike out." - Adam LaRoche, September 16, 2010

The 2010 Diamondbacks have their own 150-strikeout triumvirate (Mark Reynolds, Adam LaRoche, and Justin Upton) to go with the 2001 Brewers' trio. They have an ugly win-loss record. They have a paucity of contact hitters. Last but not least for Brewers fans, they will soon have something even the worst Brewers teams never had: 1400 strikeouts.