By Samuel Howard
Oct. 5, 2014
Baseball has seen classic nicknames. There was “Shoeless Joe” Jackson; Willie “Say Hey Kid” Mays; Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose.But none resonate with me quite like the nickname for a slugger from my own era — the enigmatic Adam Dunn.Dunn will always be “Big Donkey.” And I’m sad to see the big guy hang up his cleats without a postseason at-bat to show for himself.He has a ridiculous nickname, sure, but no other baseball player has hit as many home runs as the Donkey did, while also being so terrible at the same time. And I mean that in the most affectionate way possible.At his worst, Dunn was putrid. Horrid. Think of a synonym for either of those words, and he was it.But what made him such an endearing fan favorite was that he’d admit it. Dunn was his biggest critic. He once told reporters, “When I’m going bad, I’m the worst player in the league.” And historical statistics tell us just what that meant.He’s third on the all-time strikeout list, despite playing seven fewer seasons than the leader, Reggie Jackson and eight fewer than Jim Thome at number two. He also committed 120 errors while bouncing between first base and the outfield.Despite how historically awful he was, Dunn lasted 14 seasons in his career, which ended abruptly last week.Why did teams keep him around so long, despite his lackadaisical outfield play and his haphazard stabs at swinging the bat?Big Donkey could hammer a ball out of any ballpark.During his 14 seasons, he hit 462 home runs — more than half of which were on the Cincinnati Reds, my favorite team. I once saw him hit an electrifying three-run walk-off home run against the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park in 2006. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite moments ever at a ballpark.Only 10 other baseball players in history have a higher home-runs-per-plate-appearances rate — Dunn averages at 14.90 at-bats per home run. Four of them are in the Hall of Fame and the others are Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, Ryan Howard, and Manny Ramirez.Dunn is also tied with former teammate Ken Griffey, Jr. and Hall of Famer Frank Robinson with the most Opening Day homers in history; eight, to be exact.There might not be a more misunderstood ballplayer in this millenium. Fans, managers and fellow players either hated or loved him, or sometimes both. When Dunn came to the plate, there were seemingly three options: He’d strikeout, he’d walk, or he’d blast a home run nearly 500 feet.Heck, the guy even had a cameo appearance as a bartender in last year’s Oscar-nominated film, Dallas Buyer’s Club, which he helped invest.So with all that in mind, I fundamentally disagree, on all levels, with Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin’s decision to keep Dunn from batting in his only playoff appearance last Tuesday. Dunn warmed the bench during the Athletics’ 12-inning American League Wild Card loss to the Kansas City Royals.Dunn retired the next day, having not played in a single postseason game throughout his entire 14-year career.Waiting in vain on the bench for his named to be called as the innings passed Tuesday, Dunn showed little resemblance to the “Big Donkey” persona he embodied: The loveable but feared player who would either change the dynamic of a game with one swing or go down in three consecutive strikes.I wish Adam Dunn would’ve gotten the one postseason at-bat he deserved, but I wouldn’t change anything about the last 14 years. The pathetic strikeouts and pitiful defense, alongside the tape measure home runs made him one of the most entertaining athletes of my lifetime.Thanks for the memories, Big Donkey.Sanuel Howard is a junior studying journalism and the Local News Editor at The Post. Do you think Adam Dunn was incredible, terrible, or somewhere in between? Email him at email@example.com.