Adam Dunn: A Victim of Circumstance

Adam Dunn’s White Sox tenure has not been a happy one.  With the exception of the first half of 2012, Dunn has failed to live up to the lofty expectations of fans when he signed with the White Sox in December of 2010.

Adam Dunn’s signing has to be taken in the context of the time.  Despite a mid-season surge that found them in first place, the 2010 White Sox were lapped by the Minnesota Twins, despite the season-ending injury to Justin Morneau.  Jim Thome, as the Twins DH, was able to replicate Morneau’s production just fine, thank you very much.

Thome, of course, wanted to re-sign with the White Sox in 2010.  Depending on who you talked to, that decision was vetoed by either Ozzie Guillen or Kenny Williams.  The Sox went into the 2010 without a traditional DH, and they paid the price.

The 2010 White Sox won 88 games with a DH platoon that included Omar Vizquel, Mark Kotsay, and Andruw Jones.  Adam Dunn and his automatic 40 home runs should have been good enough to push that total past 90.

Dunn’s Sox career has been rough from the start.  News of the Dunn signing broke late in the afternoon of Thursday December 1, 2010.  The news conference was scheduled for the following afternoon.  It should have been the big sports story in Chicago.

Ron Santo died early in the morning of December 2.  The death of a legendary Cubs player and broadcaster pushed the Dunn story to the back burner.   Adam Dunn’s introduction to US Cellular Field was swept aside by video and pictures of fans paying their respects to Santo.

Dunn’s 2011 was a disaster.  The 1st half of 2012 did a fine job of masking the slump that came in the second half of 2012.  So far, 2013 has been a carbon copy of 2011.

More and more and more Sox fans are starting to come around to the conclusion that Dunn does not want to play baseball.  He doesn’t care.  He has his $56 million, so he doesn’t really care about his performance or that of the White Sox.

That’s not true.

Professional athletes, as a group, are an incredibly competitive lot.  Michael Jordan allegedly cheated at cards.  Lenny Dykstra was a problem gambler.   In order to make the big leagues, baseball players have to endure all sorts of minor-league indignities.  Yes, the money is nice, but there’s a lot to the baseball life that is simply not fun.

Yes, you need talent to play at a professional level, but you also need the endurance to keep doing it.  There are plenty of options for players who don’t want to live the baseball life.

Dunn is frustrating to watch as a White Sox fan.  I’m guessing that being Adam Dunn is worse than watching Adam Dunn.  When you are a competitive person, the money is a distant second to demonstrating the talent you know you have.   The money doesn’t change the fact that over 10 thousand people are booing you at your home ballpark.  The money doesn’t change the fact that a Google search of Adam Dunn’s name results in hundreds of articles discussing why you are suddenly bad at baseball.

Have you Googled your name lately?

Dunn’s performance, relative to his contract, speaks to another brand of frustration.

Middle-class economic frustration.

The gap between the rich and middle class has turned into a canyon over the past 30 years.  More Americans are living in poverty.  Middle Class income, when adjusted for inflation, has remained stagnant.  Income is being eaten up by taxes, rising health care costs, mortgages, college tuition, rising gas prices, and a million other different expenses.

The $56 million Dunn will make as a member of the White Sox will be added to the $20 million he made as a member of the Washington Nationals, and the $36 million he got from the Cincinnati Reds.

Dunn’s great-grandchildren will be able to live well off of the money Dunn has made playing baseball as a member of the White Sox.

Most fans worry about how they are going to pay the bills.

The economics of baseball are different.  Major League Baseball made $7.5 billion in 2012.   That would place MLB on the Fortune 500 between Charter Communications and Coca-Cola.   If you were to add up the members of every 40-man-roster, MLB only has 12 hundred players “working” at any given time.  A relatively small amount of people get to share an incredibly large pie.   That is how baseball salaries work.

If you’re not happy with the situation, blame the late Marvin Miller – former head of the MLB Players Association.

In the middle, lies Adam Dunn.  His epic slump happened to occur at the intersection of increasing player salaries and a massive income divide.  Both of which have been gestating since the 1970’s.

Kind of depressing.  Then again, it’s been that kind of season.

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