On this date in 1981, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Tom Seaver struck out St Louis Cardinals 1B Keith Hernandez for his 3000th career strikeout. At the time, he was only the fifth pitcher in the history of the game to accomplish this feat. Prior to Seaver, only Walter Johnson (1923), Bob Gibson (1974), Gaylord Perry (1978) and Nolan Ryan (1980) had recorded that many strikeouts in their careers. All five made the HOF with relative ease. Since then, the number has more than tripled with strikeouts becoming more a part of the game.
Remember in the old times, batters used to do everything they can to avoid being struck out. Two strikes used to call for a defensive swing, and batters would settle for making any kind of contact they could. Over the last thirty plus years, batters swing for the fences. Batters strikeout over 200 times a season, something unheard thirty years ago. Reggie Jackson, MLB's all time strikeout leader, had a career high of 171 Ks in his rookie season. Afterwards, only twice in his big league career did he K more than 142 times. This is an important component in determining how big of a deal 3000 Ks are. The increase in Ks in the game has lost 3000 Ks some luster.
The final question to ask before making a final decision on this is who has 3000 Ks and which of them are in the Hall of Fame. To pitch enough to gain 3000, it takes a body of work and a very successful career. After Seaver, Steve Carlton got his in 1981. Ferguson Jenkins got his in 1982 and Don Sutton in 1983. They are both in the HOF. Phil Niekro got his in 1984 and Bert Blyleven in 1986. Though there was some dispute over both, each did make the HOF. The remaining six pitchers have not made the HOF, yet, since they are not eligible. Roger Clemens (1998), Randy Johnson (2000), Greg Maddux (2005), Curt Schilling (2006), Pedro Martinez (2007) and John Smoltz (2008) round out the list. And lets be honest, if all the listed pitchers make the HOF, it would not be surprising. Clemens may have some difficulty due to the steroid implications and there is a chance that Schilling or Smoltz could fall short, though both are HOF worthy in my book.
After looking at this, maybe 3000 Ks should stay as a barometer over whether a pitcher is HOF worthy. In the future, it may change. But right now, it is a pretty exclusive club as all 16 members of the 3000 K club have to be listed among the best starting pitchers to pitch in this game.