Don’t talk to baseball scouts about football. They’ll moan about all the sure-shot phenoms they’ve lost to the gridiron. Ask them instead about Adam Dunn, a towering talent with “aw shucks” charm who’s almost too good to be true. He quit college football after his freshman year and became a big-league All-Star by the age of 21. Cincy fans think their “Dunn deal” is the real deal. After four straight 40-homer seasons, no one—including Adam—is likely to disagree. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Adam Troy Dunn was born on November 9, 1979, in Houston, Texas. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) He was the second of Skip and Pat Dunn's three boys. The oldest was Jason, and the youngest was Brian.

The Dunns lived in Porter, a small town about 40 miles north of Houston on Route 59. The family's roots reached deep there. Skip's father and two brothers moved to Porter in the early 1960s, and the Dunn name eventually became synonymous with the town. In all, the family totalled more than 100 members, with a significant number living on Dunn Lane in Porter. During the holidays, Adam and his family would join the rest of their relatives in their own sprawling rec hall.

Life in Porter was pure bliss for Adam. He loved to fish and made good use of the rivers and lakes in his area. As he got older, he became an avid hunter, too.

At home, the Dunns were a close-knit bunch. Skip sold welding equipment for a living, while Pat chose not to work, preferring instead to be a homemaker. Both parents were completely devoted to their children.

Adam enjoyed baseball as a kid, though it wasn’t his top sport. He took his first cuts when he was four-years-old. Skip noticed immediately that his son was much more comfortable and powerful from the left side of the plate, and instructed Adam to hit as a lefty. Truth be told, that was the extent of the elder Dunn's coaching contribution. It wasn't that Skip was disinterested in his son's baseball career. Rather, Adam was a tireless worker from an early age, and he gladly went about learning how to improve as an athlete on his own..


 

 


Like most boys in Texas, Adam grew up fanatical about football. The University of Houston had a powerhouse offense led by David Klingler, while the Houston Oilers always boasted an entertaining team. But Adam did more than watch—he played. Tall, athletic and fast, he was a natural on the gridiron and developed into a gifted quarterback. A righthander, Adam possessed a strong arm and commanding leadership skills. Though easygoing and friendly off the field, he was a fierce competitor on it, a trait that rubbed off on his teammates.

In the fall of 1994, Adam entered New Caney High School, a short drive north of Porter. Over the next four years, he emerged as one of the nation's most sought after prep stars. As a senior, Adam stood well over six feet, weighed in at more than 200 pounds and posted sub-4.5 times in the 40-yard dash. He called signals for the Eagles during the football season and played first base for the baseball squad each spring.

Most believed Adam's future lied on the gridiron. During his high school career, he threw for nearly 5,000 yards and 44 touchdowns. Even he considered himself a football player at heart. In fact, whenever Adam took to the diamond in New Caney's royal blue and white baseball uniform, he brought the same mentality that he carried with him on Friday nights in the fall.

Adam could hit with power to all fields and possessed an advanced understanding of the game for someone still in his teens. He was so feared at the plate that opposing managers usually chose to pitch around him. At times, he was slotted in the leadoff spot, and even then he normally walked four times a game, including in the first inning. On the advice of his father, Adam resisted the temptation to chase deliveries out of the strike zone. The discipline he showed at the plate earned him as much attention from scouts as did the prodigious blasts he produced when enemy hurlers gave him something decent to hit.

Still, big-league teams were hesitant to take a chance on Adam. Football recruiting experts listed him among the best quarterback prospects in the country, along with Ronald Curry of Virginia and Tyler Watts of Alabama. Adam fueled speculation that he was intent on a gridiron career when he signed a letter of intent to play for coach Mack Brown at the University of Texas.

Months later, though he had all the physical tools to be a Top-10 pick in baseball's amateur draft, Adam was passed over until the Reds tabbed him in the second round. Scout Johnny Almaraz had seen him several times in person, and was floored by his mental makeup and awesome power. If Adam concentrated his full efforts on baseball, Almaraz predicted, he would become a superstar.

ON THE RISE


David Klingler, 1992 Classic
 


Knowing that football was part of Adam's plan the following fall, the Reds agreed to a deal that allowed him to join the Longhorns in August. The contract included a signing bonus of just under $800,000. Adam then got on a plane for Montana, where he donned the uniform of the Billings Mustangs, Cincinnati’s affiliate in the Pioneer League. There the 18-year-old joined an entry-level club stocked with other top prospects, including Austin Kearns, Corky Miller, Josh Hall and Robert Madritsch.

Adam dazzled the Reds with his maturity and raw skill. At the plate, he showed patience and learned to make adjustments from one at-bat to the next. His power was obvious from the get-go, but he caught nearly everyone in the organization off-guard with his speed on the basepaths. In 34 games, Adam batted .288 with four home runs and four steals, and walked as often as he struck out.

The only sub-par area of Adam's game was his play defensively, but that was mostly due to a change in position. Given his strong arm and surprising speed, the Reds switched him to rightfield. His adjustment was awkward at times. Adam had little experience tracking down flyballs and making long throws to the infield. But his work ethic was unquestioned, so the Cincinnati brass was confident he would develop into a solid outfielder. Though Adam played just half a season, he was still named the Pioneer League’s sixth-best prospect for 1998.

When Adam arrived in Austin for football training camp, he fit right in with his new teammates. Texas running back Ricky Williams took a particular liking to him. The Heisman Trophy candidate knew something about juggling sports—he had been drafted as an outfielder by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1995 and played a couple of seasons in the minors during his Longhorn career. Whenever Adam needed advice during his first year at Texas, he usually went to Williams, who also proved a mighty adversary in video games.

Adam found the going tougher than expected on the football field, where his development as a quarterback stalled. Another new recruit, Major Applewhite, won the job as the team's starting signal caller, which pushed Adam to the sidelines. Redshirted by Brown, he watched the Longhorns overcome a shaky start to post an 8-3 record. Just about every highlight that year was provided by his buddy Williams, who rushed for 2,124 yards and 27 touchdowns. He took home the Heisman in a runaway vote.

As 1999 rolled around, Adam resolved to supplant Applewhite as the starter. He felt his standing was further bolstered when backup Greg Cicero saw the writing on the wall and transferred from the program. But Brown appeared to have something else in mind for Adam. When hot-shot high schooler Chris Simms—son of former NFL quarterback Phil Simms and USA Today's national player of the year—committed to Texas, the coach toyed with the idea of switching Adam to tight end. Brown even used him there during spring practice, which didn't sit well with Adam. As the school year wound to a close, he announced he was giving up football.


Austin Kearns, 2002 Bowman
 


The news was music to the ears of the Reds. They assigned Adam to extended spring training, and then shipped him to the Rockford Reds of the Class-A Midwest League. There Adam slumped early in the season, partly because his coaches suggested one change after another in his stance. It wasn't until Jim Hickman, one of Cincinnati's minor league hitting instructors, told him to forget everything he'd been told and do what came naturally that he began to heat up. Thanks to a season-ending 11-game hitting streak, Adam finished at .304 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs in 93 games. He also stole 21 bases.

In September, the Reds gave Adam the option of joining the big club for a month. Eager to work on the weaker parts of his game, he declined the offer. Instead the 19-year-old went directly to a fall instructional league, where he benefitted from some intense individual coaching.

In 2000, Adam showed up for his first full spring training with the Reds. He made an immediate impression, launching a mammoth home run off lefty Gabe White to dead center. Though Adam wasn't yet ready for the majors, the Cincinnati front office began re-evaluating their timetable for his arrival.

In the meantime, the Reds had other questions to answer. Most notable were negotiations with the Seattle Mariners about Ken Griffey Jr.. In his walk year, Junior awaited a huge payday on the open market. The Mariners knew they couldn’t afford him, so Cincinnati eagerly entered the bidding, assuming that the idea of returning to his childhood hometown would be appealing to Griffey. Every time the teams spoke, Adam's name came up in the conversation. The Reds were steadfast, however, in their refusal to include him in a trade.

Adam began his third year in the organization in the Midwest League, with the Class-A Dayton Dragons. A fractured thumb slowed his start, but by mid-season, he was back to his hot-hitting ways and had established himself as the top player on the team. Unlike most hitters at this level, Adam was willing and able to work deep into the count. The result was 100-walk/100-strikeout season—a rarity in the low minors.

Adam ended the year with a league-leading .428 on-base percentage to go with 16 homers, 79 RBIs and 24 steals—the second-best mark among baserunners in the entire organization. Adam also improved his outfield play—though the Reds now projected him as a leftfielder because of his rifle-armed roommate, Kearns. The big righty had an even better year than Adam at the plate, batting .306 with 27 home runs and 104 RBIs. With Griffey coming off a 40-homer season, the Cincinnati outfield picture was looking pretty good a couple of years down the line.

Adam and Kearns entered spring training in 2001 with the next six months of their lives mapped out. They would tag-team Southern League hurlers as members of the Class-AA Chattanooga Lookouts, and then move up a level to Louisville with the RiverBats. As often happens, however, both prospects took unexpected detours. Adam started the year on fire and never cooled down. In his first six weeks, he hit .343 and topped the SL in homers (12) and RBIs (39). During one 12-game stretch, he hammered seven long balls. Adam credited hitting coach Mike Greenwell for much of his success, citing slight alterations to his stance and swing. Kearns, meanwhile, was injured and missed more than half the year.

After watching Adam in person, Reds farm director Tim Naehring recommended that the team promote the slugger to Louisville. GM Jim Bowden was hesitant but trusted Naehring’s judgment. With the RiverBats, Adam walked into a perfect situation. Louisville manager Dave Miley was an expert at developing young talent.

Adam wasted little time acquainting himself with International League pitching. After a brief adjustment period, he homered in five of his first 10 games, including a pair of game-winners. Named the IL's Batter of the Week, Adam continued to hammer away. By mid-June, he already had eight home runs and 25 RBIs for the RiverBats.

In July, Adam was named to the U.S. team for the All-Star Futures Game. Hitting fourth behind Jason Lane and in front of Nick Johnson, he bombed a 409-foot home run off Juan Pena, a promising pitcher for the Oakland A’s. Several days later, Adam traveled to Indianapolis for the Triple-A All-Star Game. Again he dazzled, this time going deep twice, including a booming shot that cleared Victory Field's rightfield bleachers.


Jim Hickman, 1965 Topps
 


That was all the Reds had to see. On July 20, Adam—sporting a .344 average with 16 homers and 44 RBIs in 151 at-bats for Louisville—was called up to the big club, far ahead of the schedule set by Cincinnati management. With the team beset by injuries and out of the playoff hunt, the Reds felt the pressure on Adam would be minimal. Besides, he had nothing left to prove in the minors.

MAKING HIS MARK

The Reds were a team in considerable disarray when Adam joined them. Bob Boone’s lineup had difficulty scoring runs and even more trouble preventing them. Griffey, on the DL much of the spring with a bad hamstring, was not bouncing back, and Barry Larkin and Aaron Boone were also hurt. The starting staff was a crazy quilt of reclaimed veterans and skittish youngsters, with closer Danny Graves the only arm the club could count on.

Adam stepped right into the starting lineup and picked up where left off in Louisville. He gave the Reds a much needed jolt of energy with his patient hitting and aggressive play. He slammed his first home run at the end of July—a 425-footer at home in Cinergy Field. In August, Adam slugged a dozen homers to tie the National League record for first-year players. he shared honors as the league’s Rookie of the Month with Houston's Roy Oswalt. By season's end, he had 19 homers and 43 RBIs in just 244 at-bats.

Off the field, Adam was a hit with teammates. They liked his sharp sense of humor, modesty and intensity. Sean Casey took him under his wing. When Adam suffered through an 0-for-15 slump in August, it was the Cincinnati first baseman who helped snap him out of it with advice and encouragement.

Going into 2002, Adam was assured an everyday spot in the Reds outfield. But that didn't stop him from being among the team's hardest workers in the spring training. He pressed veterans for their insights, and asked coaches to help with extra batting practice and fielding. For a team like Cincy trying to rebound from an awful year (66-96), his attitude was a welcome kick in the pants.


Adam Dunn, 2001 Heritage
 


The Reds jumped from the starting gate in surprising fashion, winning 17 of their first 26—all without Griffey, who was out again with leg problems.The patchwork pitching staff kept the club in games, while the offense benefitted from timely hitting. Adam was a key contributor. In May, he topped the club with six homers and 21 RBIs. By late June, he raised his average well over .300.

That's when Griffey returned … and the season began to unravel.

Frustrated by his recent spate of injuries and feeling that the club was not investing enough to build a pennant-contender around him, Griffey began to sulk in the clubhouse and snipe at the media. In no time, the Reds dropped out of first place and out of contention. The youthful energy that had infused the clubhouse all but disappeared.

Adam was among the team’s many second-half casualties. After traveling to Milwaukee in July as Cincinnati’s lone representative at the All-Star Game, he seemed to hit a wall. An injury to Casey pressed Adam into service at first base, which precipitated a prolonged slump at the plate. The combination of learning a new position, the fatigue of his first full season, and a summer playing in meaningless ball games took the edge off Adam’s game. The stats told the story. Though he finished with 26 homers and 71 RBIs, his average sank to .249, and his 128 walks were overshadowed by his 170 strikeouts.

Adam spent the winter working out to build up his stamina. He wasn’t the only Red dedicated to improving his performance in the off-season. Griffey, to whom the game came so easily for so long, hit the gym like never before. Kearns, who won the rightfield job at the end of 2002, added 20 pounds of raw muscle. So much for preparation, however. All three suffered season-destroying injuries in 2003.

Adam’s occurred in August, when he sprained his thumb diving for a ball against the Houston Astros. He stayed in the game, winning it with an extra-inning home run. Unfortunately, that was the last action he saw for the year. Up to that point, Adam had been less than spectacular. His power numbers were good—even with the missed time he led the Reds with 27 homers—but pitchers had learned his tendencies at the plate,. that sent his average plummeting and his strikeouts soaring.

As his frustration mounted, Adam’s remarkable patience and discipline were completely absent . There was even talk of platooning him with Jose Guillen for a time. He remained an everyday player, but it hardly showed—his average was .215, and he had only 40 extra-base hits when he went down with his injury.

The health problems of Kearns and Griffey were of grave concern to the Reds. Luckily, Adam’s injury was not. In fact, it was the first time he had ever spent serious time on the DL. The team expected a big year from him in 2004, and he had all winter to watch videos to see what the pitchers were doing to him and learn from his mistakes. 

To help Adam, the Reds brought in Chris Chambliss. Adam really liked the new hitting coach's style. Chambliss encouraged the big lefty everyday and told him to relax at the plate.


Adam Dunn, 2002 Donruss Origina
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Adam and the Reds opened '04 healthy and happy. Playing better than expected, they moved into first place in the NL Central and stayed there into the summer. Griffey was looking like his old self, Paul Wilson was pitching effectively at the head of the rotation, and Graves was lights-out as the closer. Adam also got hot, belting 11 homers in June. Then the injury bug made a belated visit to Cincy. 

Both Griffey and Casey went down with leg njuries, which crippled the everyday lineup. When the pitching didn't hold up, the Reds fell like a stone in the stadnings. They finished their season with a 76-86 record, 29 games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals.

Adam tried his best to carry his team. In August against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he blasted a ball out of Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark that rolled all the way to the Ohio River. The clout, measured at 535 feet, generated headlines nationwide. But Adam dismissed it, saying it meant little in his team's 5-2 loss.

Down the stretch, the Reds found themselves with a chance to play spoiler against the Cubs. Adam relished the role. When Cincy took three of four games from Chicago and helped eliminate the club from the Wild Card race, he celebrated like a Little Leaguer.

Speaking of celebration, Adam also embraced his pursuit of the big-league strikeout record. When he broke Bobby Bonds's mark of 189—Adam ended with 195 Ks—he laughed it off as his opportunity to be a part of baseball history. This was easier to do considering his other numbers—a .266 average, 46 home runs, 102 RBIs, 105 runs and 151 hits, all of which were career highs for him.  

The following year, d espite pacing the league in runs and slugging, the Reds suffered through another dismal season, winning just 73 games. The poor season cost manager Dave Miley—one of Adam's minor league skippers—who lost his job. He was replaced by Jerry Narron. Adam topped 40 homers, 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 100 walks again, but he also led the NL in strikeouts with 168.

The Reds were more competitive in a weaker Central Division in 2006. The addition of Bronson Arroyo and the maturing of Aaron Harang into a top-notch starter earned the club some respect on the mound. Narron, however, could not find a closer and the team fell a few wins short of the division crown.

Adam was hardly the difference-maker. Although he continued to provide the Reds with 40-homer power, his average sunk to .234. He also struck out 194 times. Some in the media wondered whether he was nothing more than the next coming of Dave Kingman.

The major highlight of Adam's season was a game-winning grand slam against the Cleveland Indians in June. It was just the second time in team history that a player had erased a three-run lead with a walk-off granny.

Another positive was that Adam remained an outfielder. When Casey was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the off-season, it appeared he was headed for first base—a position he did not want to play. In fact, he skipped the World Baseball Classic to work on his defense at that position. Fortunately, for Adam, the acquisition of Scott Hatteberg and trade of Wily Mo Pena ensured that he would stay in the outfield.

Adam rebounded in 2007, slugging 40 home runs again. More impressive, he raised his average to .264. He also cut way down on his strikeouts in the second half. Productive years from Griffey and Brandon Phillips gave Cincinnati a strong offense, but another bullpen implosion doomed the Reds to their seventh straight losing season. After the season, Cincy hired Dusty Baker to manage the club and move it to the next level. The Reds also picked up Adam's option for 2008.


Adam Dunn, 2004 Topps
 


Baker has had luck with left-handed sluggers in the past, most notably barry Bonds. Adam figures to play a key part in the new skipper's plans to turn the Reds around. At 29, he is at the peak of his skills and trending upward. That long-awaited 50-homer season may finally be a reality.

ADAM THE PLAYER

Blessed with a massive body, natural speed, a smooth swing and a keen batting eye, Adam has the pedigree of a first-class slugger. His ability to adjust and focus from at-bat to at-bat speaks volumes about his maturity as a hitter. Indeed, what impresses coaches most is how he thinks his way through every plate appearance.

Most everyone, including Adam, agrees that he needs to shorten up his swing. It may be a thing of beauty when he connects, but it leaves him susceptible to hurlers who can ride a fastball up through the strike zone.

As for Adam’s defensive future, the crystal ball is less clear. Though competent in left, he does not figure to improve significantly. His long arms and foot speed erase many mistakes, but he will never win a Gold Glove. The dreaed move to first base may not be far away.

 


Adam Dunn, 2006 Turkey Red

 

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