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Adam Dunn shares striking-out gene with legends Reggie, Stargell and Schmidt

Updated: June 15, 2014 10:35PM

If the home run is a metaphor for what America thinks of itself, all power and gusto, then what is the lowly strikeout supposed to mean? Weakness and a general lack of heart?

No, no, no. Not in the hands of those who strike out and hit home runs prodigiously. The strikeout is the mighty swing, the grunt of all-out effort. It’s a bat slicing through the strike zone, with only air offering resistance. It’s famine in hot pursuit of feast. Of course, there’s the caught-looking strikeout, of which there can be no defense, other than passivity, indecision or an umpire’s utter blindness.

Adam Dunn has whiffed a lot. The White Sox designated hitter has struck out 2,295 times in his career, including three times Sunday against the Royals. That puts him 11 behind former Cub Sammy Sosa, who is third on the all-time list. Unless Dunn starts making regular contact like a .325 hitter, he’s going to smash Reggie Jackson’s career record of 2,597 strikeouts.

Shameful? Take a look at the people who have swung and missed the most in baseball history: Jackson, Jim Thome (2,548), Sosa, Dunn, Alex Rodriguez (2,075), Andres Galarraga (2,003), Jose Canseco (1,942), Willie Stargell (1,936), Mike Cameron (1,901) and Mike Schmidt (1,883).

Not bad company.

“A lot of times, the guy on the mound realizes he’s got to make some pretty good pitches or there can be some damage done,’’ Dunn said. “Against the guys on that list, pitchers have tended to turn it up a little bit more and throw more of a two-strike pitch [on every pitch] as opposed to laying one in there. They know that if they lay one in there, there’s a chance they’re going to have to get a new ball.’’

This is not an apology for Dunn’s tendency to whiff. He’s in his 14th season. Jackson needed 21 seasons and Thome 22 to get where they are on the list. Dunn is to striking out what Rembrandt is to painting or, if you prefer, what Adam Sandler is to acting.

He has led the majors in strikeouts four times. That’s a lot of air turbulence.

A strikeout carries a scarlet letter: K. If there are men on base, you have done nothing to advance the baserunners. But being on the all-time top-10 list is not something to be ashamed of, either. Not if you’re hitting home runs, too. Dunn has 451 of those.

“It comes with the territory,’’ he said. “I could probably go up there and not strike out very often, but I’m not sure how those [home-run] numbers would look.’’

What separates him from most of the other serial whiffers is his ability to draw walks. He twice has led the major leagues in bases on balls, including 2012, when he also struck out an amazing 222 times, one shy of the major-league record for a season. How could someone with such a good eye have so many strikeouts?

“A lot of times, [Sunday] included, I take a lot of close pitches that are balls [but are called strikes],’’ he said. “It seems to go against me quite a bit. Obviously, that’s a handful. I don’t like to swing early in the count too often. A lot of times I get in a hole, but a lot of times I see a lot of pitches. Striking out obviously is not something you’re up there wanting to do, but I think it matters more when you do it than how many times.’’

The strikeout is followed by the walk of shame back to the dugout. Where does the guilty party train his eyes? Down, to show remorse? At the pitcher, in case he’s celebrating too much? At some indistinct point in the distance to ignore any catcalls? You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Dunn had to pick an approach right away. He struck out looking in his first at-bat as a big-leaguer. Call it foreshadowing.

Chicago doesn’t have much of a grip on the baseball record book. Hack Wilson, the long-gone Cub, owns the RBI record for a season with 191, in 1930. Former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood shares the record for the most strikeouts in a nine-inning game, with 20 in 1998. George Gore had seven stolen bases in a game for the White Stockings in 1881, tied for the most in baseball history.

If Dunn breaks Jackson’s record, we’ll have to share it with Cincinnati, Arizona and Washington, where he also played, and wherever else he might play in the future. I say we embrace it anyway. Beggars can’t be choosers.

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