Adam Dunn was six at-bats short of qualifying for the batting title last season, so his .159 average will not go down in history as the lowest for any qualified major leaguer since Bill Bergen hit .139 as a starter for the 1909 Brooklyn Superbas.
But still: 1909! Brooklyn Superbas! Not a disappointing Nicki Minaj remix, but a baseball team that preceded the career of Babe Ruth. Considering Ruth's career preceded the existence of things like the Theory of Relativity, Cornflakes and the talking motion picture, it's safe to say we are speaking of a very long time ago. But, to put Dunn's historically woeful 2011 season in proper perspective, these are the terms that need to be brought up.
It's almost impossible to talk about Dunn last season without appearing to speak in layers of hyperbole. "WORST EVER" is generally a friendly exaggeration you can chalk up to typical youthful embellishment. With Dunn, it really isn't. Given the era, the ballpark and certainly the expectations, he really might have turned in the worst season for a hitter in the eternal history of Major League Baseball. His triple-slash score was like looking into the sun. Stare too long, and your retinas will disintegrate.
That would be appalling -- well under replacement level -- for even a slick fielding Quadruple-A shortstop. When it's your designated hitter? When he's doing it in the first season of a 4-year, $56 million contract? Dear lord. My eyes!
The nice thing about the the 2012 Chicago White Sox, who have started 21-21, is they're devoid of expectations. Last year, they weren't. Last year, I remember ending a hazy night by declaring them a certifiable World Series darkhorse to a group of friends. This was the night they signed Adam Dunn.
The 2010 White Sox weren't a fun crew to watch, either. In what may go down as the worst decision of Ozzie Guillen's career, the team decided to bypass re-signing veteran slugger and all-around folk hero Jim Thome in order to add "flexibility" -- with a heavy emphasis on those air quotes. Instead, the Sox's DH Hydra sank the team one swing-and-a-miss at a time. Shockingly (read: not shockingly), Mark Kotsay, Omar Vizquel and Mark Teahen couldn't provide the production required from a designated hitter. So in comes Dunn, the perfect candidate to add the left-handed pop the South Siders' lineup so desperately needed.
It was deemed a great signing at a largely reasonable price by just about everyone. And why not? Dunn was a proven masher, an incredibly patient, strikeout-happy hitter who might not have been properly appreciated in a pre-"Moneyball" era. You could count on Adam Dunn. He had hit 40 or more homers from 2004-2008. He blasted 38 dingers in both 2009 and 2010. His career OPS was hovering around .900. Dunn was just what the doctor ordered to fix a punchless Sox lineup, or at least the best realistic option possible.
And then the season started and Adam Dunn fell on his face. An emergency appendectomy operation on April 6 probably didn't help much; even his Wikipedia page hints at crediting the procedure for his swift and unhinged downfall. One thing is for certain: the player we saw last season was not the real Adam Dunn. That was more like Kotsay, Teahen, et al. fused together in a "Big Donkey" costume.
This year is different. This year, Adam Dunn is back to doing Adam Dunn things.
On May 14, Dunn ripped his 11th homer of the season in at-bat No. 112 during the first inning of a 5-0 White Sox victory over the Kansas City Royals. In 2011, he hit 11 home runs the entire year. It took him 415 at-bats to get there.
More proof of a Dunn comeback: in 2011, he couldn't even kick the Cubs' ass. And if there's one thing Dunn has proven he can do as well as anyone, it's deliver death blow after death blow to the North Siders.
Dunn has the second most home runs against the Cubs by an active player, with his 43 bombs trailing only Albert Pujols' 53. In the crosstown series last season, Dunn went 0-for-16 with nine strikeouts. This weekend, Dunn showed again last year was an outlier: he hit a homer in the eighth inning on Saturday to help key a White Sox winner, and he did it again on Sunday, following Gordon Beckham's fourth inning home run with a solo shot of his own.
After a pair of jacks at Wrigley, it feels safe to officially proclaim Dunn has returned to his rightful place: that of an enormous human being who's prone to whacking the life out of a baseball at highly proficient rates. Dunn's current triple-slash score is a much more Adam Dunn-like .247/.390/.596, good for a .986 OPS. His 14 homers put him on pace to hit 50-plus. Adam Dunn is back.
It's part of an incredibly unlikely resurgence for a trio of highly paid, once-fallen Sox players that has the South Siders as a legitimate contender in the A.L. Central before the calendar turns to June. Jake Peavy is a Cy Young candidate; Alex Rios, who was nearly as awful as Dunn was last season, is back on his "every other year" game, currently sitting with an OPS .77 points higher than last season. Peavy probably deserves his own column too, but Dunn's comeback might strike me as more uplifting. Watching Dunn put together one of the worst seasons in history in 2011 was just depressing.
Now that Dunn's back to clubbing homers, drawing walks and terrorizing the Cubs, hope for these White Sox is starting to seem a bit more realistic. After the injury-terminated seasons the Bears and Bulls ended on, it's a much needed antidepressant.