No player in baseball history has been quite like Adam Dunn, the epitome of a hit-or-miss guy, so it is fitting that he's on the move for the first time in his career, heading to the Arizona Diamondbacks, in the sort of deal that clicks or bombs but rarely sees an in between.
Simple though it may sound, if the Diamondbacks do hold their tenuous 1½-game lead over Los Angeles in the National League West, the trade is a success. Because without Dunn, the Diamondbacks – buoyed by Brandon Webb and Dan Haren playing Batman and Robin – would be hard-pressed to survive a season laden with trip wires.
The latest, a season-ending wrist injury to second baseman Orlando Hudson, made the deal – which just beat the 48-hour deadline after the Diamondbacks claimed Dunn off waivers from Cincinnati – all the more imperative. Oh, there were other bummers: losing Eric Byrnes for the season and lamenting the selling of Carlos Quentin, whose 32 home runs tie Dunn for the major-league lead, and getting substandard production from some of their great young talents, Justin Upton and Chris Young chief among them.
Hudson's absence shook the Diamondbacks, and shook them into action. Now they have the big bat they have long coveted, the one they missed last season in a National League Championship Series sweep and whiffed on again at the non-waiver trade deadline when they refused to up the ante in the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes.
Dunn is a mess of exaggerations – size, at 6-foot-6 and 275 pounds, and swing, a long, looping strike of force, and mannerisms, with his outsized sense of humor. But he has undeniable raw natural power, which will play at Chase Field just fine.
With eight more homers this season, Dunn will become the eighth player in major league history to hit 40 or more in five consecutive years. Babe Ruth owns the record with seven. Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa did it six times. Ralph Kiner, Duke Snider, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Jr. round out the list.
Griffey, a teammate of Dunn's with the Reds for the last eight seasons, can't understand why the 28-year-old isn't more of a commodity. Maybe it's Dunn's batting average – .233 this year, .247 for his career. Or the nonchalance with which he's perceived to conduct himself – due, perhaps, as much to the long-running idea that he regrets leaving a scholarship to play quarterback at Texas as the fact that, yes, Dunn does carry himself in the outfield like a sloth.
Whatever the case, Dunn's reputation has been the object of whispers that in June went public when Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi ripped him on a radio station as a player who "doesn't really like baseball all that much."
The two had never spoken.
"For someone to think just because he likes throwing a football around, he isn't passionate about baseball – it's just so far from the truth," Griffey said last week. "If you don't care about baseball, you don't hit 40 home runs every year. You just don't."
Dunn's retort – "I don't know the clown," he began – was pointed. Still, the questions raised by Ricciardi about his commitment could have driven down his trade value.
Because, in the end, Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty got Dallas Buck, a one-time hotshot prospect with a history of arm troubles, and a couple of players to be named later. Which may well be the best someone can get for Dunn, a free agent-to-be, who probably amounts to nothing more than a seven-week rental and counter to the Dodgers' pre-deadline Manny Ramirez-Casey Blake play.
"That's why we play the game," Dunn said. "This is a huge, huge deal for me to play for a first-place team in August."
For eight years, Dunn languished in Cincinnati, where the postseason meant a derriere imprint on the couch. He'll play right field and hit fourth in Colorado on Tuesday, the Diamondbacks going headlong into the Dunn experience. Part of it is the laughable fielding and the absurd strikeout numbers, which makes Arizona's lineup – already with serial whiffers Young, Upton and Mark Reynolds – more porous than a sponge.
And the other part consists of home runs and walks, the two special qualities that separate Dunn from his predecessors and contemporaries. Think five straight years of 40 homers is impressive? Dunn is 20 walks from hitting 100 for the fifth straight year, and only Bonds has done 40-100 five in a row. Never Babe Ruth. Never Ted Williams. No one but Bonds and, soon, Dunn.
The Diamondbacks are fine with the skeptics trashing Dunn. They can chuckle that 36.8 percent of his hits this year are home runs or call him Dave Kingman with a good eye or train cameras on his outfield antics in preparation for the blooper reel.
Arizona is in a pennant race, and it needed to do this. As its newest player can attest, it's better to swing for a home run than stand there with the bat on your shoulder.