Mickey Mantle was criticized severely for striking out so much during his career, but in the 1950s and 1960s, the “experts” didn’t know that a strikeout was merely an out.

Players of Mantle’s era considered striking out an embarrassment. After striking out, many players would hang their heads as they returned to the dugout.

Mantle struck out an average of 115 times over a 162-game season, which was more frequently than Willie Mays (83), Hank Aaron (68), Ralph Kiner (82), Roger Maris (81), Frank Robinson (88), Harmon Killebrew (113) and Ernie Banks (79).

What made Mantle great was that in his career he walked (1,733) more times than he struck out (1,710).

Among the above players, only Ralph Kiner and Hank Aaron walked more than they struck out.

Modern “experts” have concluded that it is relatively unimportant how often productive hitters strike out.

In 2011, American League MVP contenders Curtis Granderson and Adrian Gonzalez have struck out 147 and 112 times, respectively, in 135 games each.

Mark Reynolds has 31 home runs to go with his 166 strikeouts, while Ryan Howard has 30 home runs and 153 strikeouts. Mike Stanton, who may set a new rookie home run record, has hit 31 home runs with 146 strikeouts.

Mickey Mantle no longer holds any New York Yankees single-season strikeout records.

In 2000, Jorge Posada struck out 151 times, the most by any Yankees switch-hitter. Alfonso Soriano’s 157 strikeouts in 2002 is the most by any Yankees right-handed hitter.

Reggie Jackson struck out 133 times in 1978, which was the most by any Yankees left-handed hitter until Granderson this season. Granderson has already broken Reggie’s record in only 135 games, and he will add to his dubious distinction.

The most times Mantle ever struck out in a season was 126 in 1959. He followed that with 125 in 1960.

Mantle often said that the injury he suffered in the 1957 World Series, when Milwaukee Braves second baseman Red Schoendienst fell on his right shoulder, ruined his swing from the left side of the plate, which accounts in part for so many strikeouts.

But from 1955-58, again in 1961-62 and for the last time in 1968, Mickey walked many more times than he struck out, averaging 122 walks and 97 strikeouts a season.

In 1957, which might have been more productive than his Triple Crown season of 1956, Mantle walked 146 times with only 75 strikeouts. This may be more significant that anyone ever realized.

Mantle’s knowledge of the strike zone had never been as good as it became in 1957, but it was in that year’s World Series that his right shoulder was injured. How much more would he have produced with a healthy right shoulder?

The major difference between today’s free-swinging sluggers and Mantle is that among the 11 batters who have hit at least 30 home runs this year, only Jose Bautista (109 BB and 92 K), the great Albert Pujols (54 BB, 51 K) and Prince Fielder (89 BB and 88 K) have more walks than strikeouts.

Mickey Mantle has become better as the years have passed. A major reason is that his strikeouts are no longer considered much of a negative.

Some great players who followed Mantle have made his career 1,710 strikeouts seem less extreme.

Reggie Jackson struck out 2,597 times for the all-time record. Jim Thome, who is still active, has 2,473 strikeouts.

In seventh place, with a chance to break Jackson’s record, is Alex Rodriguez, who has struck out 1,904 times.

How often has A-Rod been criticized for striking out too much?

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