Adam Dunn(notes) is talking about quitting. He's talking about it like he's been thinking about it, like it's always a possibility, a failsafe if this misery continues. And then he's talking about it like the chances of him doing it are infinitesimal because he adores baseball, even as it corrodes his sense of self. And then he's talking about it like he's not sure what he thinks, which tends to happen when a 31-year-old with 363 career home runs suddenly forgets how to hit a baseball.
"If I'm not having fun anymore, I'll go home," Dunn told Yahoo! Sports. "Flat out. I'll go home. I mean that. Swear to goodness. I'll. Go. Home. I enjoy playing. Even though I suck. Or have been sucking. I enjoy playing the game. Love it. But as soon as I lose that, I'm gone, dude. It's true.
"How many games can you play doing this? This is ridiculous. You get to a point, and you're like …"
Dunn pauses. When he's trying to explain how it's 10 days from August and he's still batting .158, he runs out of things to say and lets ellipses fill in the blanks. He is in the first year of a four-year, $56 million contract with the Chicago White Sox, who signed him as a free agent to bat fourth as designated hitter, and if the season ended today he'd own the worst average in the live-ball era by more than 20 points. When the depth of Dunn's agony seems to have reached its nadir, he goes hitless and realizes that sports are an unforgiving profession. Being a millionaire comes with consequences.
Self-awareness helps Dunn deal with them. Even though this season has been, as he puts it, "the most difficult thing of my life," he's not yet at the point where failure has sucked the fun out of playing. He doesn't skulk around the White Sox's clubhouse. He doesn't loll in corners and bury his face in an iPad. He doesn't plant his 6-foot-6, 285-pound body on the bench and bemoan the disappearance of his prodigious left-handed power.
Even if he talks about quitting, he cannot imagine taking the leap.
"It's not going to happen," he says. "Zero chance. Zero. You can't get this competition anywhere else, dude. I don't care where you look. Nowhere else. It's one-on-one, dude. And you can't find that anywhere. …
"There's two ways to do it. You can sit and pout and 'why me,' or you can say we've got 60 or 70 or 80 games left to start your year. For two months, be the best player in the league. And if I can do that, we're going to win a lot of games. I'm blessed with that kind of attitude, and thank God, because I don't know what I'd be doing. I know some people the big man upstairs wouldn't do this to because there would be some bad things happening."
The concentration of bad things happening with Dunn's bat is acidic enough. His .289 on-base percentage is nearly 100 points lower than his career average. His .299 slugging percentage lags more than 200 points behind his norm of .521. In his best month this season, May, Dunn hit .204. He can't hit left-handers (2 for 64), can't hit with two strikes (12 for 181 with 124 strikeouts, an .066 average, compared to the rest of baseball, which hits around .180 in such situations) and often can't hit period (he's taken a collar in 46 of 82 games).
"It's been really hard," Dunn says. "You've got to keep it in perspective. It's a game. It's baseball. No matter how you look at it, it's still just that."
And yet baseball matters to Dunn. What former Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said a few years back about Dunn not caring: It's bunk. This gnaws at Dunn. It embarrasses him. He doesn't understand what's wrong. His swing feels fine. His head is as clear as it can be under such circumstances. Dunn studies video. He tweaks his approach at the plate. He's always been a high-strikeout guy and succeeded in spite of them. Even if his swing has slowed down – pitchers are throwing him more fastballs than he's ever seen, nearly 63 percent – it doesn't disappear this young.
"I don't remember anyone like this," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen says. "I tried to do everything I can. Nothing's come out. Nothing's right.
"The only thing I can do is keep playing him. Hopefully for the best. There's nothing else."
Guillen sat Dunn on Tuesday night against Kansas City, which started left-hander Danny Duffy(notes). He was idle again Wednesday against lefty Bruce Chen(notes),. The White Sox's next three games come against right-handed starters in Cleveland. Maybe that's the start.
"I'll have a good couple of games, and then … phhhhhh," Dunn says. "I can't get hot. Maybe it's going to be one of those things where the last two months are just gonna be epic. I don't know why they can't be.
"There's been times where it's like, 'Here we go. I've got it. It's back.' And then the next day I'll run into a guy who pitches me good, and it's like, 'Oh, crap.'…"
The curiosity about how Dunn's hasty return from the removal of his appendix this spring is immaterial, as was his meeting with the White Sox's sports psychologist on a golf course three weeks ago. Dr. Jeffrey Fishbein is a scratch golfer, Dunn says, and nobody else on the White Sox plays golf competitively.
Nobody, Dunn says, is going to fix him but himself. And he'd like for the mending to start now. None of the external pressures are taunting him. Not Rob Deer's .179 batting average in 1991. Not a 200-strikeout season, which he's somehow avoided to this point. Not the contract, the one with all those zeroes.
For the last 10 years, Adam Dunn has uncoiled his swing with ease and watched balls fly magnificent distances. He craves that and needs it and better get it soon, lest he stop having fun and get to a point where he's like …
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- Adam Dunn