Life is a topsy-turvy roller coaster ride filled with highs and lows and twists and turns – so, every once in a while it’s going to make you barf. And when the highs come along, it seems like everyone is there to celebrate with you. But when the lows come along, it can be a disturbingly lonely experience.
A few years ago I had one of those years where everything seemed to go wrong, and everywhere I turned, I seemed to get kicked in the face – and sometimes kicked in that sensitive region lower than the face but higher than the knees – I mean the balls.
After an absolutely satisfactory previous year, it looked like the good times would keep on rolling. But within a few months, I had two very profitable ventures fall through. My girlfriend dumped me – via a strongly worded email. My writing projects that were going full-steam ahead suddenly evaporated. One of my closest friends began practicing the Amish tradition of shunning with me. And to top it all off, there was that “mix-up” which led to me being “handcuffed” and “questioned.”
It was a rough year. And you, sitting there reading this, can probably think of a year you’ve had where seemingly nothing could go right and it seemed the world was out to get you. And that time might even seem pretty horrible to you now, years later. But, as bad as that one year was for me, and as excruciating as every day may have been in the year you’re thinking of, none of us has had it as bad as Adam Dunn.
Adam Dunn plays for the Chicago White Sox. It’s hard to imagine anyone who gets paid tens of millions of dollars to play professional baseball for a living could qualify for a worst year ever. But, what if that player was about to go down in history as one of the single greatest disappointments in the history of the sport? What if that player was having a season that would be remembered by generations as one of the epic stink burgers in all of sports? Okay, now your year doesn’t look so bad, right?
Last offseason, Adam came over from the Washington Nationals with a brand new contract of four years for $56 million. Just about all the experts loved this signing. I’ve always liked him. He’s a huge dude with rugged good looks. He has come close to making it onto my bromance list quite a few times.
He was going to be just what the White Sox needed to boost their offense. They needed a left-handed batter. He is left-handed. They needed a slugger. He averaged 40 home runs a year over his career. His batting average has never been very high, but this guy got on base with walks at a Hall-of-Fame pace. His defense has always been average, but the White Sox didn’t care – he was going to be their designated hitter. So, all he had to do was hit.
Well, that’s the problem. He hasn’t hit. At all. For the whole season. He’s been awful. He’s not hitting any home runs, he’s not getting any walks and he’s leading the league in strike outs – which is very cool if you are a pitcher – but it is very uncool if you are a batter.
And no one knows why this is happening to such a good player. Sometimes players slow down their production when they get a big contract, but this production is historically embarrassing. Maybe he’s injured and he isn’t saying anything. Maybe he met some girl who’s sucking the life out of him and he isn’t allowed to say anything. Maybe he hates living in Chicago. Maybe there’s some trouble in his family that’s distracting him. Maybe aliens abducted him and their tests left him unable to play – hey, don’t laugh, it could happen. It sort of happened to me once. Well, not really “happened,” so much as I dreamt it.
It’s not like Adam’s the only one having a bad season. There are a couple other players stinking up the league. Jeff Mathis from the Angels is on pace to be the least-effective batter in the history of baseball or softball or jai alai. But he’s always been bad, and it’s not his fault that his manager Mike Scioscia has some sort of twisted obsession and insists on playing him. Dan Uggla of the Braves started off terribly – one could say it was Uggl-y – and he has managed to somewhat salvage his season with a long hitting streak and a bunch of home runs.
There’s a lot of talk right now over who are the front-runners for the leagues two MVP awards. Jose Bautista, Jacoby Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson in the American League. Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Roy Halladay in the National League. But absolutely everyone agrees that Adam has distanced himself from the rest of the pack in the Least Valuable Player award.
Adam is producing at a rate that is less than half of his usual. I’ve never seen anything like this. Statistically he has cost the team about six games. And those six games would have his team in first place. And maybe it would be even more games – that’s just off the raw statistics. So, basically you could just grab any other baseball player in the league or even in the minor leagues and the White Sox would be a better team. The team would actually be better if he followed Rodney Dangerfield’s move from “Caddyshack” and claimed his arm is broken.
But the White Sox can’t just replace him; $14 million a year is a lot of money. And it’s more than that – it’s the possibility that one day he could show up and just start hitting like he used to. That’s what happened to Uggla. And a couple years ago David Ortiz of the Red Sox stank up Fenway Park for two months and then started hitting.
Relationships can be like this. You’re dating some great guy or girl – whichever happens to be your preference – and it starts off fun and exciting and sweaty. And then she (or he) starts acting weird and things aren’t nearly as fun or exciting or sweaty, but she (or he) already moved in and you’re kind of stuck. So, you keep hoping that the next day will be the day when she (or he) snaps out of it and it will all be fun, exciting, sweaty times again.
But this never actually happens with relationships, and there’s only a month left in the season for Adam, who continues to be awful at an almost unprecedented rate. I don’t know what he should do, and I don’t know what the White Sox should do with him. I know what they would do with him if he was a horse. But horses don’t have $56 million contracts.
I know what I did at the end of my awful year. Road trip. I drove all the way from LA to Cape Cod. Sometimes you just have to get out and clear your head. Force quit the program. Pull the chute. Hit the reset button. And then start over like nothing bad ever happened.
It worked for me. I recovered. And just last year I got married – to a girl that is much better looking than me. Other writing projects are progressing and another business venture was started and is succeeding. And I discovered the deliciousness of Korean BBQ. All in one year.
It can get better, Adam. It can get turned around. Let’s do this, Adam. You. Me. Road trip.