“I’ve tried it all, and I’m sticking with it.”
That’s the Yogi Berra–like philosophy of Chicago White Sox newcomer Adam Dunn, who over the last seven seasons trails only St. Louis Cardinals powerhouse Albert Pujols in most home runs in the big leagues. Pujols has 294; Dunn has hit just 12 fewer.
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A consistent producer for seven seasons in Cincinnati (with shorter tours of duty at Arizona and his most recent stop, Washington), Dunn this summer figures to add to a White Sox legacy of prototypical left-handed power hitters: Harold Baines, Oscar Gamble, Jim Thome and Robin Ventura. When the season kicks off on Friday 1, the sturdy swinger will serve as the primary designated hitter for the team that won 88 games last season, good enough for second place in the American League Central, six games behind the division champion Minnesota Twins. (A first baseman by trade, he will also give Paul Konerko some days off in the field.)
“I’m happy to be here. I look good in black,” Dunn says, following a March morning workout at the White Sox spring-training complex in Glendale, Arizona.
The infectious personality and intimidating, bearlike presence of the six-foot-six, 285-pounder will play well on the South Side, where the identity is all about grind-it-out, no-pretense hard work.
“Adam has been one of the premier left-handed power hitters in baseball for the last decade,” says White Sox general manager Kenny Williams. “Coupled with his patience at the plate, we think he is a great fit in our lineup and in our ballpark.”
Grab your gloves, Sox fans: Dunn, coming off a 38-homer, 103-RBI effort last year with the Nationals, is likely to touch ’em all, early and often, at homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field. Facing the Dodgers in a 2004 game at Cincinnati, Dunn launched an estimated 535-foot shot (now known as the Adam Bomb) that cleared the stadium wall at Great American Ball Park, bounced on Mehring Way and finally landed on a piece of driftwood in a part of the Ohio River that belongs to Kentucky. Baseball historians argued it was the longest home run hit since 1976, maybe ever.
Delighted to be in Chicago, Dunn knows the team has a legitimate shot at the World Series, and at age 31, he also understands the clock is ticking. “I finally got lucky,” he says. “I’m always the guy that buys five scratch-off lottery tickets, and the sixth one’s the winner.”
Affectionately known as “The Big Donkey,” a joking reference to his slow, lumbering gait, Dunn is a walk, strikeout and home run kind of guy. His batting average may be on the low side, but his career on-base percentage is solid. Since 2004, the Houston native is averaging .253, with 40 home runs and 101 RBIs. Although his walks are decreasing slightly, he still reaches base at a clip well ahead of average (38.1 percent versus 33 percent for MLB over ten seasons).
Dunn still strikes out roughly a third of the time, but those numbers are also decreasing. He hasn’t led the league in that category in six seasons. “It’s about getting on base, I don’t care how,” he says.
Dunn was originally headed from Houston to play both baseball and football (quarterback) at the University of Texas. That all changed, however, when the Reds selected him in the second round of the 1998 amateur draft. In a Reds uniform, “The Dunn Dinger” established a reputation for crushing tape-measure home runs, spraying doubles and—yep, whiffing far too often. But his walks and on-base percentage numbers held up, despite the fact he wasn’t “protected” within a fearsome hitting order. In 2002, he was named an NL All-Star.
As his $18.5 million contract drew near an end in August 2008, Dunn, then leading the majors in homers, was shipped by the Reds to the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks for three prospects. In the thick of a division chase with Los Angeles, the D-backs faltered down the stretch to finish second, and missed what for Dunn remains an elusive goal: postseason play.
His time in the desert ended up brief but productive. He hit eight homers in 44 games there before declaring free agency.
Recruited to the lowly Washington Nationals by former Reds GM Jim Bowden (the man who drafted the slugger in 1998), Dunn in 2009 stacked up strong individual numbers (.267, 38 HR, 105 RBI) for a team that logged only 59 wins—and sometimes couldn’t even get its own name right. (Through no fault of their own, Dunn and teammate Ryan Zimmerman donned “Natinals” jerseys in a now-notorious April ’09 Nats “equipment malfunction.”)
During his time in D.C., Dunn understood the team was headed nowhere. That’s one big reason Chicago feels so different, he says.
“Everybody comes into spring believing their team’s going to win the World Series. This team does. And it’s the first time in my career I’ve had that opportunity.”
With senior leadership, good clubhouse chemistry and solid 2010 results, this Sox team appears poised for a spectacular year—on paper. Adam Dunn will be a factor.
“I’d live here year-round if winters weren’t so cold, and that’s saying a lot for a kid from Texas,” he says. “Seriously, I wanted to go to a place that not only I thought would win a championship but where I could really contribute. There’s no pressure. I love it.”