I know there are a lot of members on this forum who like giving special dispensation to certain players based on particular influencial factors, for example: awarding players an 'era credit' (fielding averages of players in the 'old days' are worse because the gloves were lousy, therefore a guy with a crummy FA was actually a great fielder because the rest of the league sucked), 'war credits' (players' stats are projected one way or another based on how they were doing (peak) right before the war), record-setting hitting stats are recognized as being inflated if set in 1930, record-setting pitching stats are recognized as being inflated if set in 1908 or 1968, etc, etc....
What about strikeouts? Are strikeout stats WAY over-inflated nowadays? I say they are. When Walter Johnson retired in 1927, he was the all-time career strikeout leader. In fact, he held that lofty position for 55 years! As the 1983 season began, Johnson was still first in lifetime K's but, all of a sudden, after the 1983 season was over, he stood at FOURTH place all-time! In a single season, three pitchers had passed him (Carlton, Ryan and Perry). Since then, the books are littered with various strikeout records of one type or another.
Just as the home run records are falling by the wayside as each new year is ended, so, too, are strikeout records. As batters continue to swing from the heels and live or die by the 'big fly', pitchers continue to rack up strikeout records by the boatload.
Should we use the modern era as a point in time to minimize the impressiveness of strikeout records? Or are we still so impressed by the strikeout that we continue to compare the likes of Ryan, Clemens and Randy Johnson to their historical counterparts like Walter, Dizzy and Waddell? Do we give extra 'points' to pitchers like Waddell who struck out so many in a day and age of contact hitters? I think so.
Strikeout statistics in the modern era, much like home run statistics, are way overblown. They need their own wing of the Hall of Fame so that we can compare them with records of other modern players, not with old-time stars. Using this as a benchmark, there is little doubt that the TRUE strikeout king of all-time is probably Waddell. Or possibly Walter Johnson....?