Adam Dunn gets last chance to silence boo-birds
BY DARYL VAN SCHOUWEN Staff Reporter March 27, 2014 10:24PM
GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 05: Adam Dunn #44 of the Chicago White Sox hits a single against the San Diego Padres during the second inning of the spring training game at Camelback Ranch on March 5, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 468818387
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Can Adam Dunn make things right with White Sox fans in this, his final season on the South Side?
He had them in his corner when he first signed a $56 million free-agent contract three years ago, but one terribly bad year and two not-so-bad years that weren’t good enough to win them back leave the 6-6, 285-pound slugger with 440 homers on his baseball card with one last chance to quiet the carping and complaining at U.S. Cellular Field.
“I look at [this year] like, in a perfect world, that would be great, but my whole goal is not an ‘I’ll show you’ kind of deal,’’ Dunn said. “This sounds boring or like a cliché, but I’m being honest — I want to do what helps us win that night. If it’s 0-for-4, and I hit a ground ball to get a guy over, we score and we win, perfect. I’ve never been a numbers guy, and I’m not going to start being a numbers guy now. There’s only one thing that’s important, and it’s not personal numbers.’’
That would be winning, and Dunn, 34, has never won enough in 12 full major-league seasons to play in the postseason. It’s all that he wants, and when the Sox were in first place for 117 days in 2012, he did his fair share by hitting 41 homers, driving in 96 runs and making the American League All-Star team. He batted .204 but led the league in walks with 105 to bump his on-base percentage to .333, but the thing that annoyed the fan base was a league-leading 222 strikeouts.
Dunn gets it. He once hit an opposite-field, three-run homer in a game in Cincinnati that gave his Reds a one-run lead in the eighth inning. When he trotted out to his position in left field, a fan said, ‘Hey, Dunn, we know you can hit homers. How about a single once in a while?’’
Are you kidding? Dunn thought.
Sox fans were the ones saying, ‘Are you kidding?’ during Dunn’s first year, the “All In” season of 2011 that fizzled for him and the franchise. After signing a four-year megabucks contract, one of baseball’s most prolific home-run hitters of all time finished with 11 homers, 42 RBI and a .159 average.
Dunn knows he made a bad first impression.
“But I can’t do anything about it now,’’ Dunn said. ‘‘I could sit back and tell you 15 things [that factored into that season’s performance], but it wouldn’t change it, so why bother with it.’’
Dunn dealt with an emergency appendectomy in Kansas City and a son’s health issue that year. Throw in the challenge of adapting to a new league and expectations that came with the contract, and Dunn had himself a blueprint for failure.
By averaging 38 homers and 91 RBI over the next two seasons and being the Sox’ most productive hitter over a three-month stretch last season, Dunn has righted his ship somewhat, but he’ll see his role scaled back as he shares designated-hitter duties with Paul Konerko. It’s a plan that makes sense —Konerko batted .313 against lefties last season, and Dunn’s career OPS against righties is .896 compared to .780 against lefties.
While some might gripe or grumble about fewer at-bats, Dunn is “all in” with the new plan.
“Whatever is best,’’ he said. “I’m preparing like I always have for every year, for 162 games and 700 at-bats, and I’ll adjust accordingly.’’
That Dunn is genuinely a team guy first and a Dunn guy second is nice, but fans base their love on performance. Dunn gets it. It doesn’t make getting grilled any easier.
“Obviously, it’s tough,’’ Dunn said. “When you get cheered, it’s a lot easier to do your job than when you get booed. But I’m a realist; I get it. I’m a fan, too.
“I don’t want to say what the fans think doesn’t matter, but my whole thing is if these guys in here and the coaching staff believe in me and what we do, that’s what you play for.’’