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The Trouble With Adam Dunn

I kept rewriting this week's report because things got weirder and weirder at The Cell over the weekend. Of course, I'm referring primarily to Adam Dunn, who is in an indescribable funk. Rehashing here what already has been covered elsewhere doesn't make sense. However, the South Side has never been witness to this kind of phenomenon, making it difficult to ignore.

Sure, there was Dave Nicholson, who struck out 175 times for the Sox in 1963. Nicholson was part of a trade with Baltimore that sent Luis Aparicio to the Orioles. Dave had signed a bonus contract with Baltimore which proved to be a waste of money, and they gave up on him at age 22. He had a reputation for hitting gigantic home runs so the Sox took a chance.

Is this relevant to Dunn? Well, sort of. For one, Nicholson's 175 whiffs have remained unmatched for the past 48 years in Sox annals. But the mark clearly is in jeopardy now that Dunn has fanned 100 times - with seven strikeouts in eight at-bats over the weekend.

I remember the fans loudly booing Nicholson much the same way as Dunn. But Dave did slam 22 home runs that season - a few of the gargantuan variety - and he drove in 70. He never came close to matching those numbers again and was dealt away after the '65 season.

Poor Adam has one little, itty-bitty, tiny, pint-sized infield hit in 53 at-bats against lefties. How weird is that? Last year he hit an anemic .199 against lefties - still much better than his present .019 - but he managed nine homers against southpaws.

The booing didn't help Nicholson, and apparently it's not helping Dunn. We know he hears the boos, but, as yet, he in no way resembles the Adam Dunn who averaged about 35 homers and 90 RBI in 10 National League seasons.

I don't boo him or any other ballplayer. I have a deep and genuine respect for the minute percentage of the population who can hit a baseball hurled at 90 miles an hour, using a round bat. And that's a fastball. The sliders, curves, and change-ups create even more havoc for people like Adam Dunn.

Lest you think that I am now going to recite the Boy Scout pledge, I admit to being a recovering boo-bird. When I was a kid sitting in Comiskey Park's bleachers one evening, I booed Mickey Mantle because, well, he was Mickey Mantle. He was superior to any of my favorite Sox players. I was envious and jealous, so I booed him. A middle-aged man sitting behind me shook his head and asked me why in the world was I booing Mantle.

Needless to say, I lacked an intelligent response, and I haven't booed since.

Well, check that. I have booed security guards for ejecting eager fans who fall over the railing onto the field to snatch a foul ball. I also boo the tacky promotion at The Cell where three contestants dance on the dugouts between innings. I've never been entertained by that nonsense, thus I am a consistent critic.

Cub outfielder Alfonso Soriano weighed in on the treatment of Adam Dunn during the Cubs-Sox series earlier in the week. Soriano feels sorry for Dunn as the boos become louder at The Cell. The Cubs' much-maligned outfielder has been there, done that on the other side of town. While his skills have eroded, no one can say that the guy isn't sensitive. Whaddaya want for eight years and $136 million?

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Soriano's honest appraisal - when I play good, they cheer; when I play bad, they boo - is universal. Fans are fine and dandy when they're backing a champion or even a contender. It's fun. They feel good. They can brag about their team. Life is wonderful.

I literally groan listening to athletes who have just won some sort of championship gush about "the greatest fans in the world." Well, no kidding. Winning teams draw large, boisterous, adoring crowds complete with morons holding up their (index) fingers chanting "We're No. 1!" The bandwagon is an alluring vehicle, and there's room enough for everyone.

But are those the greatest fans? I think not. They are more typical than great.

So where are the "greatest fans?" At this juncture there are five major league teams averaging crowds of less than 20,000 this season: Cleveland, Oakland, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, and Florida.

One might argue that the greatest fans live in Oakland and Kansas City. Neither team has a remote chance of reaching the postseason. Each will lose more than it wins. I challenge anyone (outside of K.C. or Oakland) to name the starting lineup for either team. Get my point?

So why would anyone fork over $30 or more to watch the Royals or A's? Because - though few they may be - they are loyal, avid baseball fans. They love the game. They love being at the ballpark - the green grass, the smell of hot dogs and beer, the chance to talk to the stranger sitting next to them, the love of the game. John Updike made a decent living writing about it.

That leaves the two Florida teams and Cleveland. How anyone conceived putting teams in the Sunshine State is beyond me. It's too hot, there are too many other things to do, the retirees can't afford a ballgame, and the ones they can afford - spring training - sate their appetite for the entire year. Let's be clear: there are few baseball fans in Florida.

However, I always thought Cleveland had great fans. The Indians drew 2.6 million in 1948 when they won the World Series. Granted, they played in mammoth Municipal Stadium with a capacity of almost 75,000, but no franchise had higher attendance until the Dodgers in 1962 when big league baseball still was novel in L.A.

In the 1990s, with a competitive team and a new ballpark, Cleveland had 455 consecutive sellouts. Despite leading the division much of this season, the fans haven't returned. But the ones who are present at The Jake (hold on . . . Progressive Field) certainly can rival the folks showing up in Oakland and Kansas City. They've been there for the past few seasons when the Indians were also-rans. Evidently Clevelanders think this year's edition isn't much different than the past few seasons, so they're staying away in droves.

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I haven't been to Oakland or Kansas City this season, but my guess is that there is little booing because the expectations are so much lower than those of Adam Dunn. He is the guy who is supposed to put the Sox over the top, and so far he's hurt the team instead of helping it. So the booing is understandable and expected.

At the same time, Dunn was cheered Saturday in the eighth inning when he walked, contributing to a two-run rally. The cheers may have been laced with sarcasm, but most Sox fans are aching to support the big guy. He came close Friday night to getting much-needed props, but Nationals' centerfielder Roger Bernadina made a sensational catch above to wall to rob Dunn of his eighth home run. So far it's been that kind of year for the big guy.

Veeck Redux
We received a number of approving e-mails from last week's column about baseball owners and Bill Veeck. For more Veeck, check out Chicago videographer Tom Weinberg's Media Burn website, which includes episodes of The Time Out Show on WTTW featuring Veeck (and Roger!) as well as the documentary A Man for Any Season.

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Comments welcome.

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1. From Sol Gittleman:

The Veeck column showed wisdom, knowledge, and perspective; the one on booing shows maturity. I'm right there with you, Roger. But, I extend the equivalent of booing to sportswriters. When Dan Shaughnessy called Jose Offerman "a piece of garbage," I wrote that I would never read him again.

Do you recall the last line of Mark Harris' novel Bang the Drum Slowly? After attending teammate Bruce Pierson's funeral, Henry Wiggins, star pitcher, says, "From now on, I rag no one."

Me, too.


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