As his 14th season in the majors nears its final stages, newly acquired A’s slugger Adam Dunn is hoping against a repeat of the previous 13, which he said have all ended “the exact same way – which is in disappointment.”
In six of those seasons, Dunn hit at least 40 home runs, including exactly 40 from 2005 to 2008. The 34-year-old began Tuesday tied for 35th on the all-time home run list with 461. His rate of hitting one home run every 14.79 at-bats was tied for ninth-best with that of another left-handed hitter: Ted Williams.
Dunn also had drawn 1,311 career walks, tied for 42nd all-time. And only two players had more strikeouts than his 2,353. His career has been a study in aggregation, except for one area where there remains a big, glaring zero: In 14 seasons, covering 1,977 games, Dunn has never been to the playoffs.
He leads active players in most games without a postseason appearance and is 15th all-time. A week ago, it appeared he’d spend the rest of this year adding to his total, playing for a Chicago White Sox team fighting to stay out of the American League Central cellar.
Then the A’s came calling, looking to jolt their scuffling offense and give Dunn a chance to erase his name from a dubious list.
“This is going to be it,” Dunn said before the A’s played the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday night. “I mean, this is going to be it. Not only do I believe it, I know it.
“Coming here, seeing the makeup and how loose everybody is, that’s the key. These guys like to have fun, and they play loose. You don’t see any panic. To me, that’s the sign not only of a confident team but a team that realizes they’re pretty good. And that’s huge.”
It’s an atmosphere Dunn appears to slide into easily. As he talked with reporters Tuesday, he reclined in a chair at his locker eating a root beer float made for him by third baseman Josh Donaldson, pausing after one answer to say: “This thing’s incredible, oh, my God.”
At one point, a clubhouse attendant walked over with an official nameplate to replace the piece of tape above the locker that read: “Dunn #10.”
“No, dude, that thing’s hot,” Dunn said, indicating the piece of tape. “What’s wrong with you?
“Until we lose,” he added, “that thing’s staying right there.”
The A’s at that point were 1-0 in the Dunn era, thanks partly to Dunn’s two-run homer in his first at-bat with Oakland on Monday. Manager Bob Melvin afterward called it “a little bit of a storybook” moment, given the A’s acquired Dunn for just that purpose. Their trade for Dunn came as they were being swept in four games by the division-leading Los Angeles Angels, a series in which Oakland scored just four runs.
Dunn said his smashing debut at O.co Coliseum was “cool yesterday, not cool today.” He similarly downplayed the A’s recent offensive struggles.
“All I hear about is how bad this team’s offense is, blah, blah,” he said. “And I’m coming here almost laughing in my head, going, ‘I know who’s on that team. I’ve seen these guys and I know how good an offensive team this is.’ If this is a bad offensive team, I’d hate to see a good one.”
Despite the lift Dunn provided Monday, Melvin said he had not considered putting him in the lineup Tuesday against Mariners left-hander James Paxton. Coming in, Dunn had just 52 at-bats this season against left-handers, recording eight hits for a .154 average. He has never hit left-handers particularly well, as a .218 career average against them indicates.
“We brought him in for a specific role and he knew that,” said Melvin, who plans to play Dunn mostly as a designated hitter against right-handers. “We talked about it with him (Monday). But that also allows you to use him in-game like we do, maybe in more of a leverage type of situation.”
For Dunn, the role is secondary to the situation. The closest he has come to reaching the playoffs was in 2012, when the White Sox led the Central for most of the season but faded in September and finished second. Dunn said he has never been one to watch the postseason if not a part of it – his only incentive has been to watch friends, such as Jake Peavy with Boston last year, compete in the kind of games he has never experienced.
“I realize how lucky I’ve been that the two seasons I’ve played, we’ve made the playoffs both times,” A’s closer Sean Doolittle said. “If we could get to the playoffs and that could be something he could experience, that would be awesome.
“The other thing, too, is he could be not just a guy who’s along for the ride. He’s a guy that can absolutely carry the offense and be a force in the middle of the lineup. So I think he’s going to be a big piece in what we do down the stretch.”
And beyond that? Before leaving Chicago, Dunn reportedly said he’s seriously thinking about retiring after this season. Tuesday, he was more ambiguous.
“That’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while,” he said. “But obviously, things have changed now. I think I probably owe it to myself to put that on the back burner, at least for a couple months.”