A couple years back, Adam Dunn was at Charlie Sheen's house doing some business. And, no, doing some business is not a euphemism. Sheen invited his old friend Dunn and Joe Newcomb, a Texas entrepreneur and Dunn's business partner, to discuss a venture for which he needed funding: "Major League 3."
Newcomb passed, not yet ready to expand from the fertilizer business into entertainment. He needed a project that dovetailed with how he made millions in his original industry: low risk, high upside. When the company that owned the script for "Dallas Buyers Club" went bankrupt, Newcomb saw that very opportunity. Only he needed some cash.
That's when he went to Dunn, the Chicago White Sox's designated hitter and proprietor of 447 career home runs. Dunn is a Texas boy. He was an acquaintance of the movie's would-be star, Matthew McConaughey, whom Dunn met during the year he played football at the University of Texas in 1998. This was a story that deserved telling. Newcomb hadn't steered Dunn wrong before in any of their ventures. He wanted Dunn to help cover a piece of the $1.8 million script.
"Adam negotiates things from a pack of chewing gum to buying a multimillion-dollar home," Newcomb said. "It was tough. He's tough when it comes to investing his money."
Three Oscars, a worldwide gross of more than 10 times the $5 million budget and a non-speaking role as a bartender later, Dunn couldn't be happier that he listened to Newcomb again. As has been the case with his commercial real-estate investments, a Houston-area baseball academy and other projects, Dunn is well into the beginning of what he hopes is a seamless transition when he eventually leaves baseball and begins his real life.
And that, Dunn said, is what his entrepreneurship represents: Not just a way to grow his worth beyond the $113 million baseball has given him, but the second part of what he deems "a two-part life" that too many baseball players ignore until it's too late and post-baseball reality wallops them.
"It happens all the time," said Dunn, 34. "I don't mean to be rude or have this come off bad, but there's a lot of guys that baseball is all they can do. That's it. That's all they've done from age 4 to now. It's tough. When you've done something your whole life and all of a sudden you're not doing it, what do you do? I love golf, fishing, hunting. But I don't love it that much where I can do it every day."
When he recognized this more than half a decade ago, Dunn started paying more attention to his conversations with Newcomb, a former minor league pitcher whose career ended when he lost his velocity after Tommy John surgery. A mutual friend introduced them, and Dunn marveled at the tentacles of Newcomb's businesses. Chemicals. Real estate. Design. Entertainment.
Dunn asked questions. He sought information. He came up with ideas. And Newcomb, 14 years his senior, saw the sort of intelligence and acumen with which he wanted to partner.
"He's going to be one of those athletes who surprises people when they look up and he's on the Fortune 100," Newcomb said. "Not only is he smart, he's ambitious and he has an entrepreneurial spirit. He talks business all the time."
Whether it's with teammates who seek his business advice (the retiring Paul Konerko and All-Star Chris Sale, among others) or CEOs he meets, Dunn plays the role well, vacillating between ballplayer talk and balance sheets. Ideally, Dunn wants to be the next Magic Johnson, a world-class athlete who parlayed his name into businesses that have sent his net worth toward a reported $500 million. Dunn remembers playing for the Class A Dayton (Ohio) Dragons in 2000, the year Johnson partnered with Mandalay Sports to launch the franchise. Less than two weeks ago, the Dragons sold out their 1,000th consecutive game, the longest such streak in American sports history.
When Johnson showed up at a Dragons game, it awed Dunn – and, in retrospect, showed him how life outside of the vacuum of his sport can exist for those with the willingness to risk it.
"I get it," Dunn said. "You don't know how long you can play. You don't know how long you want to play. You don't know how long you'll get an opportunity to play. I want to be ready, whether it's today or 10 years from now, to step right on in to my second life. That's there now.
"I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I did surround myself with some very intelligent people who get that there's life outside of baseball. A lot of people don't revolve around baseball. There's real-life [expletive] out there. Guys who are real smart in here, it doesn't necessarily translate."
Dunn isn't sure when he's retiring. He's a free agent this offseason. He's also having a positively Adam Dunn-like season: mediocre batting average (.248), great on-base percentage (.403), plenty of home runs (seven). So long as balls still travel upward of 500 feet off his bat, he'll find work in baseball should he desire as much.
The challenge of business, of course, does allure him. Newcomb said during the season Dunn doesn't often buy real estate properties under the corporation they established together, Hammer Back LLC, because he prefers to be more hands on. Ensuring his baseball academy, run in partnership with bat manufacturer Marucci, runs smoothly isn't easy from afar, either. And the production end of the movie business left Dunn craving more.
Newcomb's movie company, Truth Entertainment, is considering its next projects to finance, and Dunn wants in. Even if the days on set were long, the film's ability to create a beautiful new world staggered him. Being in front of the camera, then looking at it from the audience's perspective, gave him a greater appreciation of all the work it takes.
Dunn realizes business is risky, that plenty of wannabe Magic Johnsons end up in bankruptcy court. So he'll stay with Newcomb, with investments that are good deals, with only what he knows. And he'll learn soon enough what he doesn't.
"I told him after he was the bartender in ‘Dallas Buyers Club,' " Newcomb said, "he ain't gonna make the money in Hollywood being an actor that he made in baseball."