This is an ode to the most unique baseball player who ever lived.
That would be the inimitable Adam T. Dunn. And for the past 14 seasons, it’s safe to say he has walked alone.
Then again, he has also whiffed alone. But it was that awesome proliferation of whiffs and walks, in multitudes never before witnessed, that has helped create Adam Dunn’s singular ambiance in the annals of his sport.
“Here’s the thing,” said Dunn's friend and former teammate Ryan Dempster. “It wasn’t just the walks, and it wasn’t just the strikeouts. It was also all those balls that ended up over the fence. So he might be 0-for-0, with four walks, and go up and hit a home run to win the game. Or he might be 0-for-4, with four 'punchies’ [i.e., strikeouts], and go up and hit a home run to win the game. You never knew with Adam, because he was always a threat.”
Yes, he was always a threat, all right. He was a threat to go through an entire game without ever putting a ball in play. He was a threat to go through an entire game without ever hitting a ball that landed on the field he was playing on. He was a threat to hit a baseball that entered Earth's orbit. And he was a threat to make history in ways no one else ever had before him.
Then, after doing all that, said another ex-teammate, Todd Jones, “he’d be back in the clubhouse, playing Xbox and talking Texas football. ... One of the most fun teammates I ever played with.”
No doubt. And I think I speak for hundreds of us media types when I say Dunn was also one of the most fun players we ever covered. If you didn’t come away from a conversation with that man laughing, you were taking this sport -- and yourself -- way too seriously.
So if this is it for the Big Donkey, if he’s really about to retire once the Oakland A’s season is, um, done, somebody needs to take a big step back and put this guy’s one-of-a-kind career in its proper, historically warped perspective. And guess what? I volunteer. So get comfortable. Here we go:
Who needs leather?
Here’s our first astounding Adam Dunn tidbit:
More than half the times he came to the plate in a 14-year career, the other team could have sent its fielders out to get lunch -- because their services weren’t going to be required.
By that I mean that, in 51 percent of his 8,280 trips to the plate, the ball never landed on the field. No kidding. Do the math:
462 home runs
84 hit by pitch
4,221 journeys to home plate where no fielders were needed
Now we’ve had a few Russell Branyans and Jack Custs who pulled that off in thousands and thousands of fewer plate appearances. But to do it in more than 50 percent of 8,000 trips to the plate? That’s special. The next highest percentage in a career that long is just 46.4 percent, by Jim Thome (whose name you will hear again).
Last inaction hero
Then again, what made that last stellar feat possible is that, once you subtracted all those home runs, you wouldn’t exactly describe the rest of Adam Dunn’s at-bats as “action-packed.” Now would you?
Only four hitters in history managed to rack up more trips to the plate in which the ball never left the batter’s box than Dunn did. Here they come:
Jim Thome 4,364 plate appearances (2,548 SO, 1,747 BB, 69 HBP)
Barry Bonds 4,203 PA (1,539 SO, 2,558 BB, 106 HBP
Reggie Jackson 4,068 PA (2,597 SO, 1,375 BB, 96 HBP)
Rickey Henderson 3,986 PA (1,694 SO, 2,190 BB, 98 HBP)
Adam Dunn 3,759 PA (2,362 SO, 1,313 BB, 84 HBP)
Just remember that those other four men, all of whom you may have heard of, rolled up those totals in careers that went on for many more plate appearances, from 10,313 for Thome to 13,346 for Rickey. Dunn, on the other hand, achieved all that inaction in anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 fewer trips than they got.
The result: The ball never left the box in an incredible 45.4 percent of his visits to home plate. And yep, that would be a record, among men who came to bat as many times as he did anyhow. C’mon, of course it would.
A true story
But that record is a picturesque reflection of the fact that Dunn was the ultimate master of what we like to refer to as the Three True Outcomes (walk/strikeout/homer). He really should have patented that little expression. Or silk-screened his face onto about a billion Three True Outcomes T-shirts at least.
We actually regret to report that Dunn does not own the all-time record for the most games ever in which a hitter jammed a walk, a strikeout and a home run into the box score. Thome does (with 154 of them). But Adam Dunn has still done it 125 times. And what makes that such a cool number is that it ties him for third (behind Mark McGwire’s 133) with these two names: Barry Bonds ... and Babe Ruth.
So all it will take is one more of those fabled Three True Outcome games in the next three weeks -- and Dunn can honestly say he just passed Babe Ruth.
In something or other.
Lots of trots
We could go on about his walk/strikeout fun for two weeks. But let’s not minimize those 462 home run trots Adam Dunn has made, because all of those homers, added to all of those walks, resulted in way more production than he’s often given credit for. So let’s be sure to recognize that.
• Dunn once ripped off five seasons in a row of 40-plus homers. Only eight other men in history ever had a 40-bomb streak that long or longer. And just three have ever topped it: the Babe (7), Alex Rodriguez (6) and Sammy Sosa (6).
• But what makes Dunn’s streak especially memorable (not to mention amusing) is that he had four consecutive seasons with exactly 40 homers. And who else could possibly do that? Well, according to the Sultan of Swat Stats home run historian David Vincent, no one else in history has ever had four straight seasons with any home run total higher than four. And this guy had four in a row with 40. So this might be the most Adam Dunn stat ever.
• If you’re not into round numbers, you’ll be delighted to know that Dunn also once had a streak of seven straight seasons with 38 homers or more. You know who else had a seven-year streak of 38-plus? That Babe Ruth guy again (from 1926-32). The only longer streak -- ever -- is nine, by Rafael Palmeiro.
• In the first six of those seasons, Dunn also walked 100 times. Want to guess how many men in history have unfurled six seasons in a row of 38-plus home runs and 100-plus walks? Precisely one. Him. For what it’s worth, Barry Bonds’ longest streak was five. Ruth’s longest was three.
• Or let’s put this another way. The only hitters ever to have any six-year stretch that matched or beat the 244 homers and 673 walks Dunn amassed from 2004-09 are (ready?) Ruth, Bonds, McGwire, Thome, Mickey Mantle and Ralph Kiner. Wait. Who?
• We should also mention that several of those home runs are what you’d call memorable. Especially a 535-foot Venus probe in 2004 that, according to eyewitnesses, exited the stadium in Cincinnati, hopped into the Ohio River, nestled itself on a piece of driftwood and then floated to the other side of the river.
“He hit it in Ohio, and it ended up in Kentucky,” laughed Dempster, his Reds teammate at the time. “Just one more thing to add to the legend that is Adam Dunn.”
The CEO of Kmart
But there’s no getting around the fact that the one talent Dunn will forever be known for best -- not entirely fairly, we might add -- is his knack for doing some prodigious swinging and missing. You never needed an air conditioner when he was in town. He could air-condition the whole area code.
• He had more seasons of 140-plus strikeouts (12) than any hitter in history. (Thome is second, with 10.)
• He had almost twice as many seasons with 160-plus strikeouts (11) as anyone else in history. (Ryan Howard, with six, is the only other guy with more than four.)
• And Dunn’s four seasons with at least 190 whiffs would be unprecedented if Mark Reynolds hadn’t come along to match them. (All the other hitters in history have combined for five!)
• Meanwhile, who owns the exalted record for most multistrikeout games in history? Yessir. Adam Dunn, with 681.
• If we up that ante to three, you may not be shocked to learn that Dunn has accumulated more games with three punchouts or more (171) than anyone who ever lived, too.
• And who holds the record for highest strikeout rate by anyone in history who got at least 5,000 plate appearances? Yeah, Adam Dunn (with a whiff every 2.90 at-bats) would be an excellent guess.
So that’s a lot of K’s on the old score sheet. But the best part of all that hacking and missing was that this guy always owned up to every last K. He knew exactly what he was and who he was. He was never going to be Tony Gwynn. He never pretended to be or aspired to be. So he took responsibility for whatever he did, no matter how beautiful, no matter how ugly. And let’s just say his teammates noticed.
“He never took himself seriously, which kept him sane,” Jones said. “He knew he’d hit balls 600 feet. Then he knew he’d swing and miss for a while. Then he’d hit balls 600 feet for a while. So he never worried about either.”
But it says something special about him that Adam Dunn was also first in line to announce, “I stunk” -- as another of his ex-teammates, Aaron Boone, fondly recalled.
“Early in his career, before a day game, we were facing a certain pitcher who will remain nameless,” Boone said. “He says to me, 'If this guy gets me out today, I quit.
I told him not to say things like that, [to] 'be careful.'
“He proceeded to go 0-for-3, with two strikeouts off this starter, to which, after the third at-bat, I just smiled and raised my eyebrows. He says to me, 'He's still terrible, I'm just WORSE!’”
The sac race
We’d be remiss, finally, not to recount Tim Kurkjian’s favorite Adam Dunn feat of all time -- his three-year pursuit of a mere sacrifice fly.
Yes, friends. Over the course of three seasons -- part of 2003, all of 2004 and the first half of 2005 -- this man went 1,085 plate appearances without hitting a single sacrifice fly. And he even had a 100-RBI season in the middle of it -- making him one of three players since the dawn of the modern sac-fly rule (in 1954) to have a 100-RBI season that didn’t include a single SF.
You’d think that would be impossible. But Dempster has a theory.
“I think his problem,” Dempster said, “is that a lot of Adam Dunn’s sacrifice flies were caught by fans. And they’re not allowed to throw them to the catcher.”
Good point, actually. But there is so much more, of course. There was the season in Washington when Dunn was threatening to hit more homers than his team had wins -- and said: “That’s OK with me, as long as I hit about 85 home runs.”
There was the time, in spring training a few years back, when Mike Schmidt said he couldn’t understand why Dunn strikes out so much. And Dunn’s totally sincere retort to that heinous affront was: “I can’t, either.”
And how can we overlook his mind-boggling 2011 season with the White Sox, the one in which he somehow hit .159, bopped just 11 homers, piled up 111 more strikeouts (177) than hits (66), and managed to accumulate 42 more multistrikeout games (52) than multihit games (12)? It might be The Worst Season of Modern Times.
So the next season, Dunn appeared on our fabulous seamhead edition of "Baseball Tonight" and reported that, at one point, his wife asked him the best question of the year: “Have you ever considered hitting RIGHT-handed?”
And he was pretty sure, by the way, that she was serious. But you know what else is serious? That more people in this sport are truly sorry to see him go than you could possibly comprehend, including just about everyone who ever played with him.
“Someone needs to know,” said Todd Jones, “this isn’t Dave Kingman reborn. ... He’s a middle-of-the-order, back-of-the-plane, buck-stops-here guy.”
“No matter where he played, he was a guy who was a clubhouse favorite,” Dempster said. “I loved playing with him. I loved hanging with him. He’s got a great sense of humor. And most of all, he cared.”
Yes, there has never been anyone quite like him, all right. And the great Adam T. Dunn has the numbers -- and the one-liners -- to prove it.