I've never booed Adam Dunn.
Mostly because I'm opposed to the practice in general, not because he hasn't earned it. I'm invested purely in the success of the team, and I can't imagine how booing would help unless we the fan base we're trying to convince management just how much a player was hated (which wouldn't work in Dunn's case because they can't unload him if they wanted). I've never gotten worked up about how much players are paid, because their salary is the price of competing for talent on the open market, and if baseball wasn't generating such revenue the players wouldn't be rewarded such for it. And I've always viewed my investment in tickets as a sunk cost, since my love for baseball is incurable, and will continue whether or not I realize the absurdity "shelling out my hard-earned cash to watch people stink at their jobs".
That said, it's rarely been more clear than it was in the stands during Monday night's wacky 5-4 victory over the Royals that the fans who shower Dunn with boos, are feeling the same thing that I am. We're frustrated, we cannot understand why it's (his awfulness) happening, and are backpeddling to default answers when trying to explain the unexplainable (I say he has to return to career norms, they say he's a bum. Que sera, sera).
Yet more than anything we both want to be there when it turns around, understand how critical his success is to the team, and just want this hell to end.
Perhaps that wasn't immediately clear when Dunn was getting heckled before and after his strikeout in the 1st inning, and when Dunn hit a lazy fly down the line that dropped just short of Jeff Francouer's grasp, prompting a sarcastic standing ovation followed by an even more sarcastic wave of the cap by Dunn at first, it was very difficult to imagine a more poisonous and acrimonious fan-player relationship at the time.
I wouldn't say that Dunn's 8th inning go-ahead HR changed everything, because it likely didn't. The absolute veracity of the subsequent curtain call could be questioned, and I know for a fact that many expected another strikeout when he strode to the plate with the game on the line. Still, parts of the park that had seemed closed off to Dunn burst into cheers (maybe it just felt different because there was actually people in them), the sense of elation over what was once again hoped to be his breakthrough was widespread enough, that if there was sarcasm in the ovation he received, it was effectively drowned out. Dunn had struck gold, he had provided his promised result at a critical time, and the White Sox seemed well on their way to winning directly because of it. If it wasn't his triumphant moment of redemption, it certainly looked a lot like it, and the U.S. Cellular crowd was willing to treat it as such.
Adam's bemused, self-deprecating comments after the game suggested a lingering uneasiness with his reception with the fans, but the tension was relaxed. He wasn't hurrying from the abusive limelight this time. He seemed willing to stay on the field for a while and be comfortable.
Now, things just haven't looked right for Dunn all year long and they still don't. His home run to right was a towering pop-up that barely cleared the wall in right field, was said to be 150 feet high at its apex on SportsCenter (which they claimed was a season-high for the league), and if we expected him to jump his seasonal HR total from 40 to 5o thanks to the dimensions of US Cellular Field, this definitely would have been one of the 10. I wasn't just thrilled that the White Sox won with the balk in 9th while Dunn stood at the plate, I was thrilled that Dunn could still stride into the dugout as the hero, without having been tested and possibly found wanting again.
As strong as the urge is to see Dunn turn it around, is the feeling that he hasn't quite completed the process yet. If Greg Walker can spend all season with Dunn after 8 years as a hitting coach and not figure out what Dunn needs to return to being a viable major-league hitter, than I'm not sure I'll even bother hazarding a guess, especially because baseball seems dead set on proving that momentum doesn't exist every single day. But going home for the night not feeling like a failure--or more expressly, the town whipping-boy--would certainly be a relatively new entry to Adam's daily process.
Even if a cheap home run, and being party to Aaron Crow losing a semantical war to umpire Ed Rapuano isn't enough to overcome whatever combination of aging and personal torment Dunn's bringing to the park with him every day, it was just nice to see a put-upon guy have a day.
Hey, Juan got one, after all.