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Adam Dunn makes good on comeback promise, but work remains

The White Sox slugger followed through on a vow to win Comeback Player of the Year, but he says the season still feels empty.

Patting Dunn on the top of the head is a tall order for some.
Patting Dunn on the top of the head is a tall order for some.

Back in March, Adam Dunn told the media what he told Hawk Harrelson at the conclusion of the 2011 season -- he would win Comeback Player of the Year in 2012.

As long as he didn't specify which one, mission accomplished!

Major League Baseball named Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney the official Comeback Player of the Year, but Dunn took home the same award issued by The Sporting News. Though it may be a publication that's well past its prime, it's recognition worth recognizing. TSN's version was the only Comeback Player of the Year Award from 1965 through 2004. MLB then created its own such category in 2005.

Usually TSN and MLB agree with each other, but there were two exceptions prior to this year:

  • National League, 2008: Fernando Tatis (TSN) and Brad Lidge (MLB)
  • American League, 2010: Vladimir Guerrero (TSN) and Francisco Liriano (MLB)

Dunn was his usual self when talking about the honor:

"It's an award I hope I never win again," Dunn said during a conference call Tuesday afternoon. "It's one of those that's bittersweet.

"One of two things has to happen: Either you are injured for most of the year or you have a really bad, terrible season. The good thing is it's a semi-turnaround."

It was more than a terrible season that did him in. It might have been the worst hitting season in history -- and it definitely was when accounting for expectations. Had Ozzie Guillen given him six more plate appearances, we'd be able to call it official, but everybody in and around the league knew the scale of Dunn's struggles nevertheless.

Given that the award is voted on by players, it's not a surprise that Dunn's case was more compelling than Rios, even though Rios' turnaround was more complete and stunning, as Dunn himself noted:

"There obviously are two guys on our team who deserve to win it more than I did," Dunn said. "Alex carried us. He played Gold Glove [Award] right field, stole bases, got big hits and hit homers. Without him, we were sunk."

Dunn's struggles overshadowed Rios' own problems, because a .159 batting average is a .159 batting average, and his 30-homer jump is the third-biggest single-season increase in MLB history. Had MLB handed out an award for the Biggest Reversal in Fans' Perception of a Player of The Year Award, Rios would lap the field. With Dunn, it's easier to describe the depths of his professional despair.


Of course, Dunn and Rios both share a burden that remains even after their rebounds. Add up their careers, and they have played a combined total of 3,020 games without a playoff appearance, and that's what burns Dunn:

"You knew (Detroit to the World Series) was going to happen," Dunn said on a conference call. "Me and my brother were sitting there talking about it and I was like, ‘Man, it’s going to end up being Detroit because that would pour more salt in the wound’ and sure enough. … I play for one thing and if I don’t get it, it’s all for naught." [...]

"It doesn’t matter what you do if you don’t reach the ultimate goal," Dunn said. "It’s a wasted year. I would hope everybody on the team feels that way. It’s definitely a disappointing season because you didn’t reach your goal."

Given the drought Dunn has endured, it was a little bizarre to see what Fox has been doing with Marco Scutaro. Numerous times over the course of the San Francisco Giants' climb out of a 3-1 hole, the broadcast pointed out that Scutaro has never played in a World Series, and his teammates made it a goal to get him there.

I know Scutaro's a great story because of the brilliant, beautiful way he avenged Matt Holliday's vicious takeout slide. That should be enough, but apparently Fox is going to force this additional angle on everybody nevertheless. If we were talking about Jim Thome winning one (updated), that's one thing. Ichiro Suzuki is another guy who deserves the game's biggest stage at some point. But Scutaro's most comparable players on are a guy I've never heard of and Mark Ellis. Ellis hasn't played in a Series, either. Has anybody started that groundswell?

When a team just won the title two years earlier, the hard-luck stories are few and far between, I guess. Hey, if Scutaro's Seriesless career is that big of a motivator, then should the Sox ever get to the postseason with Rios and Runn, there won't be a need to even play the games.


One more note about Dunn coming up short: He didn't have baseball's TTO-est season after all.

Dunn was producing the three true outcomes -- walks, strkeouts and home runs -- at a historic rate at the end of June, but he slipped over the second half. As a result, only 56.7 percent of his plate appearances ended in a walk, homer or strikeout, meaning he finished 1½ percentage points behind the all-time leader, 2007 Jack Cust (58.2 percent).

That might have been his best shot, for if Dunn follows through on his plan to attack pitches earlier in the count, he won't make another run at that title in 2013.