Adam Dunn has a very good chance to hit 500 home runs in his career. You never can be sure about these things, but he has 457 home runs now, and he’s still clubbing them, and he doesn’t turn 35 until November. With teams not exactly overflowing with DH possibilities, with Dunn’s ability to draw a walk and with his newfound pitching prowess, I suspect he should get enough at-bats to get there.
Then again, my hero Dale Murphy had 396 home runs when he was 35, and he didn’t get to 400.
But let’s assume Dunn does get to 500 home runs. A couple of people were wondering what his Hall of Fame chances would be. And I feel pretty confident in offering this prediction: None. His Hall of Fame chances would be zero. He would have no chance even of staying on the ballot more than one year. I don’t mean this as a knock at all on Dunn, who has been a superb power hitter for his career. I mean this as a knock on Hall of Fame markers like 500 home runs (and 3,000 hits and 300 wins). They are silly.
Let’s start with Dave Kingman. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, Kingman was one of the more interesting characters in the game. By “interesting” I of course mean “nasty.” You probably know the story that in Kansas City in 1986 he sent a small pink corsage box up to the press box for Sacramento Bee writer Susan Fornoff. Inside was a small, live rodent. On it was the touching sign: “My name is Sue.”
Well, Kingman had been harassing Fornoff because he did not think women should be in the locker room; the live rat apparently was his trump card. Clever. Classy.
We probably should take a moment here to point out just how much sports in America have changed. Think about what would happen if a player did something like that now — sent an actual live rat up to a woman sportswriter as part of a concentrated harassment for her doing a job. Think about this for a minute in the age of Twitter comments blowing up into international incidents.
The A’s fined Kingman $3,000. That’s it. They didn’t release him. They didn’t suspend him. They didn’t even force him to apologize — apparently, he STILL never has apologized. He says it was a practical joke, and you don’t apologize for practical jokes. Yeah. You know that “Ha ha, you’re a woman, you don’t have the right do you job, here’s a rat I’ve named for you” joke … gets them every time at parties.
Anyway, that seems to be the kind of guy Dave Kingman was.*
*Not that this is intended to be a Dave Kingman post but there is an interesting side note. After the 1986 season, nobody wanted Kingman even though he hit 35 home runs. It is utterly unique — no player in baseball history hit 30 or more home runs in their last season. The reason is obvious: If you hit 30-plus home runs in a season, teams want you.
But nobody wanted Kingman. He believes — and with some cause — that he was a victim of owner collusion. That was, indeed, the time when owners colluded to not sign each other’s free agents; the average salary from 1986-87 actually went down, something that had not happened in a long time. I suspect collusion was a possible reason why no other teams went after Kingman.
But why didn’t the A’s re-sign Kingman? Fornoff has written that it is because of the rat incident. She wrote that the A’s new manager, Tony La Russa, DID want Kingman but management, led by Sandy Alderson, overruled him.
No matter what kind of guy he was, Kong could mash home runs. Man could he hit home runs. He was 6-foot-6, 210 or so pounds, and he would pull these majestic moon balls that would hang in the sky and then just crash land in the left-field bleachers. He was the pullingest of pull hitters — of the 268 homers he hit that have been officially tracked, 232 went to left field. That led to massive strikeout numbers and absurdly low walk totals and a .236 lifetime batting average. He wasn’t a good hitter (except for a couple of years in Chicago when he decided, for some reason, to be a good hitter). But when he got hold of one, it really was a thing of beauty.
I’ve said before: If Kingman had played his career for the Red Sox, he might have hit 600 homers.
As it was, he hit 442 home runs and this presented a bit of a challenge. Up until Kingman, every single hitter with 400 home runs was elected to the Hall of Fame. There were 20 such players, from Duke Snider (407 homers) to Henry Aaron (755) and they were all either already in the Hall of Fame or (in the case of Yaz, Bench, Reggie, etc.) about to be elected.
This created a bit of a deductive fallacy dilemma:
(1) All men are mortal.
(2) Socrates is a man.
(3) Therfore Socrates is Mortal.
(1) All 400 home run hitters are in the Hall.
(2) Dave Kingman hit 400 home runs.
(3) Therefore … AAAAAIIIIIEEEEE!!!! Danger!
I can remember quite a lot of mental twisting over this one. What would happen? Kingman were a .236 hitter! He was a terrible and uninterested defender! He sent a rat to a woman reporter! How would the Hall of Fame voters handle this thorny, seemingly impenetrable quandary?
You remember the scene in the first Indiana Jones movie when the guy in black comes out with the big sword and he does all of these fancy maneuvers, and it looks like Indiana Jones is in trouble. Then Indy pulls out a gun and shoots the guy.
Yeah, here’s how the voters handled the Dave Kingman quandary: They didn’t vote for him. At all. Three out of 430 writers voted for Kingman, a whopping 0.7 percent of the vote, and that was that. Easy.
Not too long ago, it looked like Johnny Damon would get to 3,000 hits. I remember having a huge argument with someone about Damon’s Hall of Fame chances. There are not many bigger Johnny Damon fans in the world than me, but I felt his Hall of Fame chances even if he got to 3,000 hits were only mildly better than Dunn’s or Kingman’s (mildly better because he was a better player than either of them). Yes, 3,000 hits meant automatic entry to the Hall. But that’s because players who got 3,000 hits were widely viewed as great players. Damon was a very good player. Very few saw him as great.
Adam Dunn is one of the great home run hitters in baseball history. He has hit 38 or more homers in a season eight times, which is as many times as Barry Bonds. Dunn had an utterly insane six-year stretch where he hit 40 homers, 40 homers, 40 homers, 40 homers, 38 homers, 38 homers. There’s nothing quite like that brilliant monotony in the baseball record books.
And, unlike Kingman, he has been a walk machine. Seven times he has walked 100 times in a season — twice he led the league. The guy got on base; his .366 on-base percentage is higher than Roberto Clemente’s even though his batting average is 80 points lower.
Still — and I would not have thought this — their wins above replacement are as follows:
That’s awfully close, despite the 163-point difference in on-base percentage. Why? Because WAR calculates that Dunn is one of the worst fielders in baseball history (maybe THE worst fielder in baseball history) and a pretty terrible baserunner on top of that.
Whether you buy into WAR or not … Adam Dunn isn’t a Hall of Famer. I’ve long felt Dunn was underappreciated because hitting home runs and getting on-base are two extraordinarily difficult and valuable things. But I’ve never thought he was a Hall of Fame baseball player or anything close. That’s just a very, very high bar — even for someone like me who has voted for the maximum of 10 the last few years.
So, yes, it’s fun to count home runs. I hope Dunn hits 500, even though it will inevitably lead to the spate of sad “Oh, 500 home runs used to mean something” stories. But let’s not get silly about this. I’m a huge fan of baseball statistics in all forms, but they should not be considered chains. They don’t MAKE you do anything.
When Jamie Moyer was vaguely threatening the 300-win plateau there was more of this kvetching. What will we do if he wins 300?
Easy. You congratulate him, you take a moment to remember his superb career, and when he comes up for the Hall of Fame you ask the same question that you should ask about any player: Was he one of the greatest to ever play the game? If the answer is yes, you vote yes. If the answer is no, you vote no. And the magic numbers, like magic beans, should get thrown out the window.