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Sunday, August 31, 2014
Adam Dunn: the ultimate lightning rod

By Doug Padilla

While aware Dunn's Sox tenure was tumultuous, Konerko appreciates Dunn's persistence to play every day he was healthy.

CHICAGO -- The end of the Adam Dunn era might have been an easy one for fans to digest, but it left a void in a stunned Chicago White Sox clubhouse Sunday.

It’s not like the team couldn't see Dunn's departure coming. While fans might wonder how the White Sox were able to come away with a player in return, much less find a team in the Oakland Athletics to pick up half of what he is still owed this season, the team's players and staff knew the guy nicknamed "Big Donkey" still had some value.

"He showed up every day," said captain Paul Konerko, well aware that many in the fan base might actually see that as a negative. "I think there was the time he missed [in 2011] when he had his appendix taken out, but when he missed games it was a serious thing, and there wasn't too many of them. From a teammate standpoint, that's really all I cared about and what most guys cared about. That's what we feel about it.

"I don't care if he goes out there and strikes out four times. We all do it. We all have bad games. It’s not an easy game. The fact that he never backed down and played every time he could play, really, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters to us in a lot of ways."

His high point in a White Sox uniform was in 2012 as he powered the offense into a playoff-contending run that ultimately failed. His revival was almost a shock after he hit just 11 home runs with 42 RBIs and batted .159 in 2011, his first season after signing a four-year, $56 million contract.

That 2011 season was also the year when Dunn dealt with his appendix issue, going in for emergency surgery during the first road trip of the season. He forced his way back into the lineup too soon and his struggles were predictable. He also dealt with serious health issues within his own close-knit family that he elected to not talk about.

He remained approachable during his entire time with the White Sox, never backing down from questions about why he wasn't able to deliver the kind of offense that was expected of him.

"Yeah, I mean, I'm not going to beat around the bush and say the four years here was great, because it was, um … just bad," Dunn said outside the White Sox clubhouse Sunday while his now-former team was taking on the Detroit Tigers. "I did it completely to myself. I don't blame anyone; I blame myself. But I met a lot of great people here. I wish things would've worked out better, but it didn't."

Ultimately, fans don't buy tickets to see people who get along best with players on their favorite team. As Dunn's strikeouts mounted and the boos grew louder, he never expressed frustration at how he was treated, always saying it was what he deserved.

His ability to never take it personally and withdraw allowed him to be lighthearted and fun-loving in the clubhouse, something White Sox players appreciated. Looking for a theme to this season, he had a toy chimpanzee the size of a small child at his locker dressed in a kid's White Sox jersey.

When he was away from his locker, he activated a computerized talking parrot with a motion sensor that shouted expletives when somebody approached. He raced remote-control cars on the outfield grass that reached speeds of 50 mph, and his latest purchase was a flying drone, the primary purposes of which only he knew.

He said he was giving the chimp to Jose Abreu and the parrot to Konerko, because, as he said, that’s Konerko's sense of humor.

If only all the laughs led to home runs and RBIs, maybe the White Sox would have ended up closing things out in 2012 and making the playoffs. As it was, Dunn played through an oblique injury over the final month of 2012 that derailed his and the team's season.

He wasn't always in the best of shape, and only had himself to blame for that, but it never disappointed his teammates the way it seemed to irk fans.

"He's definitely a character in here and someone that kept it lively and kept it fun," Chris Sale said. "He's definitely going to be missed.

"It’s never fun seeing your buddies walk out the door. Knowing his situation and never being able to achieve the ultimate goal, I'm just happy for him he gets to possibly achieve that goal of going after a championship."

But the other side of Sunday’s deal is that the White Sox still mean business with their roster rebuild, and the players are fine with that, too.

"We've obviously seen that before this happened that they are really putting their foot forward and trying to make a run at this in the next couple of years," Sale said. "It's going to take some time, but just play this one [season] out and keep fighting."

Looking for offense and the chance to secure a playoff spot down the stretch, the A's decided Dunn would help him get there, and that in itself seemed to provide a sense of optimism he hadn't showed of late.

"It’s huge," Dunn said. "That's a lot of pressure that I want. It feels literally like Opening Day is tomorrow. It's going to be a completely new start for me. What's happened the last four years, it’s over. This is kind of a new chapter, and I've got a month to go out and do what I'm capable of doing."

After that, Dunn says, he will call it a career, which, at this point, has delivered 460 home runs, two behind Jose Canseco for 34th on the career list.

That Konerko and Dunn will retire essentially at the same time is fitting.

"The relationships that you make are going to last longer than when you play," Dunn said. "Me and Paul will be friends forever. He's older, so he'll probably die first. … A long time. You can't say any more about [Konerko] that hasn't already been said."

When his season ends, Dunn will get to jump immediately into one his first loves: watching college football. And there's also one other thing.

"Time to be a dad," he said.