Thomas Boswell: This Dude Is No Dud When It Comes to Hitting

By Thomas Boswell
Sunday, March 1, 2009

The last two months have shaken Adam Dunn. He hit 40 or more homers five years in a row. He went free agent. Nobody wanted him. He signed for a $3 million pay cut with the team that was the worst in baseball last season. And he had to push just to get a second year on that deal.

Cue the alarm bells. Dunn has that shaggy-haired, "Big Lebowski" slacker look. "A classic movie, one of my favorites," he said. And he calls everybody "dude," too. So, does baseball mistake Dunn's 275-pound, chuckling, hat-cocked demeanor for indifference? Does he get sold short because he looks like he doesn't care?

"That's probably fair," he said.

It's not precisely true that nobody wanted him. But nobody wanted him badly. Teams formed a line to pay $160 to $188 million to Mark Teixeira, the complete player who hits .300 with power and has a golden glove, but in most offensive categories is comparable to Dunn. A line of exactly one team, the 102-loss Nats, was willing to offer the strikeout- and error-prone Dunn $10 million a year.

When you're snubbed, you can sulk or you can prove people wrong. "Well, there is no sulking here," he said. "My brothers don't allow me to think like that. They just say, 'That is a lot of money you're getting. And the game's not supposed to be about the money anyway.' "

Baseball has Dunn backward. On the outside, he may have no image. "I wish I had one," he said. He's just jeans and semi-combed hair, a guy lying on the clubhouse floor because the stools are too small, joking with new teammates, looking like a beached sea mammal.

On the inside, he's a student of hitting, a man who plays hurt, averaging 158 games the last five years, and a Texan who's too proud to show he's hurt. His hitting statistics at age 29 resemble Reggie Jackson and Harmon Killebrew, surpass Mike Schmidt. But his words show how much the last few weeks have lit his fire.

"So far in my career, I have not even come remotely close to what I can do. I know I'm so much better than what I've done," Dunn said. "Between now and the end of my career, I have a lot of work to do."

If you stretch (a lot), you could project Dunn to a 600-homer, 1,800-walk career and wonder about the Hall of Fame. At the least, "disappointed" is hardly a word you'd apply to him. Yet he applies it to himself.

"I want people to expect a lot of me. I put those expectations on myself," he said. "Sometimes I've put so much pressure on myself that I've tried too hard. But I'm disappointed that what I've shown so far isn't more."

If Dunn wants to get better -- hit .275, not .247, drive in 115 runs, not 100 -- it would be nice. But that's his business. D.C. isn't Cincinnati, a baseball-crazy town without much else to focus on.

"Tell 'em what Cincinnati was like," teased Austin Kearns, a teammate for five years and good friend.

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