The Curse of Adam Dunn


Lindy McDaniel

Lindy McDaniel pitched in more games than any other pitcher ever — 987 of them — without appearing in the postseason. Don’t let the Cubs hat fool you — it wasn’t all their fault. (Which position player appeared in the most games without ever appearing in the postseason? Hint: Think Cubs, and only Cubs. Answer below) McDaniel played 21 seasons from 1955-75 for five teams and certainly came close. (The futility of Francisco Cordero, who’s second with 800 games, is more impressive in a way. He played from 1999-2012 in the era of expanded playoffs, and still never made it). McDaniel came up with the Cardinals and was traded two years before they won the ’64 World Series; spent three seasons with the the Cubs; two with the Giants, then almost six with the Yankees (68-73) during their lost decade. He then finished with the Royals. It certainly was no fault of McDaniel’s: he was an All-Star twice, led the league three times in saves and tied Luis Arroyo’s ’61 Yankee record with 29 saves in 1970 (the Yankees had 12 saves as a team a year later; Sparky Lyle broke the record with 35 in ’72). McDaniel finished third in the Cy Young voting (both leagues) and fifth in the NL MVP voting in 1960 when he was 12-4 with a 2.09 ERA and 26 saves in 116.1 innings. As Pirates fans could tell you, Vern Law won the 1960 Cy Young and Dick Groat the MVP. McDaniel’s final numbers: 141-119, 3.45 ERA, 172 saves, 110 ERA+, 18 complete games, 913 relief appearances and a 28.7 WAR (6.0 in 1960). McDaniel also hit three home runs in 378 at-bats — his ’63 homer for the Cubs beat the Giants in the 10th inning. McDaniel’s last season with the Royals was 1975 — the Yankees had traded McDaniel and Ken Wright to get Lou Piniella. The next fall, the Royals won the AL West and lost to the Yankees in the ALCS.

Answer: The position player to play in the most games without appearing in the postseason was Ernie Banks, with 2,528, which explains why he was always happy to play two. He never had to pace himself for October.

There’s a reason the Oakland Athletics might miss the playoffs, and it has nothing to do with the trading of Yoenis Cespedes, the addition of Jason Hammel or the presence of Nick Punto.

Blame Adam Dunn.

Not for what he’s done — he’s walked twice, homered twice and fanned 10 times in 29 plate appearances since the A’s acquired him at the end of August — or not done. But because no active player has played in more games and still failed to reach the postseason.

Dunn has played for 14 seasons and five teams, hit 462 home runs, walked more than 1,300 times and played in nearly 2,000 games. But he’s pitched more innings (one) in the regular season than he has at-bats in the playoffs.

Dunn’s career has been one long jinx. If he still played football, he’d be the offensive lineman whose procedure penalty turns a third-and–one into a third-and-six (at 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, he’s big enough to do so).

Dunn has now played in 1,986 games without ever appearing in the postseason. That’s 14th all-time (Joe Torre, who played in 2,209 games from 1960-77 and never in the postseason, is sixth, though he more than made up for it as Yankee manager).

(Trivia: Name the top five active players and pitchers who have played in the most games without ever appearing in the postseason. Answer below).

With apologies to Jim Mora, forget about the playoffs. It wasn’t until Dunn’s eighth season that he played for a team — the 2008 Diamondbacks — which finished with a winning record. And it took a trade to do that.

“Do you know the guy doesn’t really like baseball that much?” Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said to a radio caller, suggesting the Jays trade for Dunn in 2008. “Do you know the guy doesn’t have a passion to play the game that much?”

Can you blame Dunn? How much passion would you have if you slugged .578 as a 21-year-old rookie in half a season, and your team lost 96 games? How much high-fiving would you be doing if your team finished a combined 121 games out of first place, and never better than 19 back, in your first five seasons? How early would you get to the ballpark if you played on teams which lost 90 games six times, as Dunn has?

This season will be only third time that Dunn has finished a season with a team that has a winning record. The A’s clinched that by beating the Mariners 3-2 in 10 late Saturday, despite Dunn’s 0-for-3. Still, Dunn’s teams have averaged finishing 13 games under .500 and 18.5 games out of first in his career. With all that losing, Dunn probably sings Take Me Out of the Ball game at the seventh-inning stretch, and who can blame him.

Dunn is not entirely blameless. He hits homers and walks, but has a lifetime .237 average, 2,363 strikeouts, is a base-clogger when he’s on them and a notoriously poor fielder. Dunn has hit 40 homers in a season six times and 38 twice, and never led the league. But he’s led a league in strikeouts four times, including 222 in 2012. Only Mark Reynolds, with 223 in 2009, has fanned more in a single season. Even Reynolds, whose traits so much resemble Dunn’s he could be his sibling as a player, has been in the postseason twice — with Arizona in 2007 and Baltimore in 2012.

There’s a reason Dunn is higher on the all-time strikeout list (third, behind Reggie Jackson and Jim Thome) than he is on the all-time home run list (tied for 35th): he’s better at it.

But Dunn is worst nowhere more than in the field, where his batting glove would help him about as much as his fielding one. If there were an opposite of Golden Gloves — maybe the Hole in Gloves — Dunn would be a multiple winner.

Dunn’s career WAR, despite his nearly 500 home runs, is just 16.8, mostly because his career defensive WAR is -29.5. He’s outdone Dave Kingman. Since being traded to Arizona in 2008, Dunn’s total WAR is 0.2, despite hitting 190 home runs in six-plus seasons.

Nothing better exemplifies Dunn than 2009, when he hit 38 homers, walked 116 times, batted .267, drove in 105 runs and had a .928 OPS. His WAR was -0.4, thanks to his -5.2 defensive rating, which would have been worse but for the six games he was a designated hitter. The Nats lost 103 games.

The A’s won’t lose that many in 2014 — they’ve only had Dunn for two weeks — and they may even still make the playoffs, where they have lost seven of their last eight series, six in deciding games.

But if they do, with Adam Dunn what chance would they have?

Trivia answer: According to baseball-reference.com, the five active players to play in the most games (through Saturday) and not appear in the postseason are Dunn (1,986), Texas outfielder Alex Rios (1,586, and his streak won’t be ending this year), Brian Roberts (1,418 and holding), Nick Markakis (1,355, and his streak will be ending) and Jose Bautista (1,235). The top five active pitchers who have appeared in the most games without playing in the playoffs are Jason Frasor (643), Scott Downs (617), Heath Bell (590), Shawn Camp (541) and Brandon League (491).

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3 Responses to The Curse of Adam Dunn

  1. Jeff N. says:

    Thanks for the short story on Lindy McDaniel. I enjoyed watching him pitch for the Yankees when I started following baseball in 1970.

    • It’s easy to forget — I know I did — but the 1970 Yankees were pretty good. They won 93 games, Munson was rookie of the year, Fritz Peterson won 20 and Danny Cater hit .301 (OK, that still didn’t make him worth Sparky Lyle). McDaniel was very good — 2.01 ERA, the 29 saves, 111.2 innings, 9-5. The thing I don’t get is the 461 plate appearances from Jerry Kenney at third base, batting .193 and slugging .282. I can’t believe Houk could stand for a season of that.

  2. Jeff N. says:

    They tried Cater at third base and it didn’t work. He did play there from time to time when he wasn’t playing first base. They also tried catcher John Ellis, a New London, Connecticut kid, at third base. Kenney made Horace Clarke look like a good hitter. That led to the deal where they sent Stan Bahnsen to the Chicago White Sox for Rich McKinney, who was converted from shortstop to third base. He had a bad Saturday afternoon game against the Red Sox where he committed four errors. It stood out since the Red Sox had just acquired Luis Aparicio to play shortstop. Also, I was intrigued by McDaniel’s signature pitch — the forkball.

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