By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Leave it to that old prognosticator Jerry Reinsdorf to read the future and make predictions.
Go back to spring training, when it appeared that the White Sox did not have what it would take to contend for a playoff spot or the American League Central title.
The team appeared to lack everything needed to win consistently except starting pitching. More than three months later, the White Sox find themselves in first place because many of their question marks have been answered positively. They have hit the ball much better than expected, the bullpen has performed adequately and the defense has not hurt them. The most questionable area has been the starting pitching.
But Reinsdorf, you may remember, was pressed in spring training about the presence of Adam Dunn. The former National League slugger had one of the worst hitting and slugging years in baseball history and the hole was so deep — .159 batting average, 11 homers, .277 slugging percentage – that it seemed to be hopeless. It’s one thing to have a bounce back season, but Dunn had fallen off the cliff and there’s only so far you can bounce after hitting terra firma.
Reinsdorf probably didn’t believe the words as they came out of his mouth, but he said “even Babe Ruth had a bad year.” Reinsdorf’s clumsy and ill-advised comparison was laughable. The Sultan of Swat was likely the best player in baseball history and his worst year in 1925 included a .290 average, 25 home runs and a .543 slugging percentage.
Ruth bounced back the following season by hitting .372 with 47 homers, 146 runs batted in and an eye-opening .737 slugging percentage.
While you should never compare anyone to Ruth, Dunn’s productivity has been a big part of the White Sox turnaround and his comeback has been somewhat remarkable. Dunn is still striking out (107) and getting his walks (53), but it’s his long ball prowess that may allow him to reach the record book.
Through the first 67 games of the season, the Big Donkey has belted 23 home runs. When the season reaches the halfway point, he could easily add five more home runs to his total. If he has 28 at the 81-game mark, that projects to a total of 56 long balls by the conclusion of the season.
That would be a significant total. Not only would it shatter Albert “Don’t Call Me Joey” Belle’s single-season White Sox home run record of 49 set during the 1998 season, it would allow Dunn to make the biggest home-run jump from one season to the next in Major League history.
That record is held by Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays. “Joey Bats” (is there a better nickname in baseball?) was a non-descript player who had played for four teams through the 2009 season. He hit 13 homers for the Blue Jays that year before he found his batting stroke. Bautista turned into a home run machine in 2010, belting 54 home runs.
That shocking total caused most baseball fans to recall the steroids era, but he credited his surge to a change in his swing and his patient approach at the plate that allowed him to see more hittable pitches.
That plus-41 home run total allowed him to surpass Davey Johnson, who went from five home runs in 1972 with the Baltimore Orioles to 43 with the Atlanta Braves in 1973. Did they have steroids back then, Davey?
Then there’s the legendary Brady Anderson, who hit 16 home runs for the Orioles in 1995, 50 in ’96 and 18 in ’97. Care to explain, Brady?
But back to Dunn. If he were to smash 56 homers this year, that 45-dinger improvement would shatter Bautista’s record.
A shocking development. But one that Dunn would be happy to wrap his massive arms around and celebrate.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.