But Ozzie wasn't able to take the air out of the Big Breeze's sails. Dunn has still managed to stay on pace for blowing away the Sox K record. Even though he's only played 64 of the team's 76 games, he's up to 91 whiffs. That's more than halfway to Dave Nicholson's 1963 record of 175, and the Sox aren't quite halfway through the season.
Dunn is no stranger to strikeout records. In 2004 he set the major league K record with 195, easily breaking the previous mark of 189. This raised suspicions that he was using steroids—it was hard to believe anyone could fan that often without pharmacological help. But all-or-nothing swinging has become so common in baseball that in the six full seasons since Dunn set that record, it's been eclipsed seven times, including once by Dunn himself (199 last year). The current all-time K champ, the Orioles' Mark Reynolds, makes Dunn look like a contact hitter; Reynolds came up empty 223 times in 2009. But Dunn might be able to regain the title this year if Ozzie would quit meddling, and just let the Big Breeze blow.
K records aside, Dunn's troubles at the plate continue. On May 20th he went 0 for 5, which lowered his batting average below two bucks—and .200 has since become a fond memory. Last week he was 0 for 12, so now he's down to a buck and three quarters. At this rate he soon won't be able to fill a pay box for more than a half hour. On the plus side, seven of his 12 outs last week were Ks.
Some experts diagnosed Dunn's malady as unfamiliarity with American League pitching. (The Sox signed him in the off-season, and he'd never played in the AL.) But interleague play has given him a few chances lately to face junior circuit hurlers again—and a lot of good that's done: in 23 at bats against NL pitchers he's produced a single single. And 14 Ks.
Other experts have reminded impatient fans of the difficulty of adjusting to the designated hitter role, which involves a lot of sitting around tweeting between trips to the plate. And there may be something to this: Dunn does seem to be the kind of player who needs to be making a few errors in the field to keep his rhythm at the plate.
All this could be taken in better humor if the Sox weren't scheduled to pay Dunn $14 million this season and each of the next three.
A solution to this payroll problem occurred to me yesterday when I was reading about the continuing deliberations of the jury in the trial of former governor Rod Blagojevich.
As several reporters have observed, men were far more successful in avoiding service on the Blago jury than women—there's only one man on the panel. Jury experts have been debating how this skewed gender makeup might influence the verdict.
My musings about the trials of the Big Breeze and Blago led me to a realization: there isn't a single professional athlete on the Blago jury.
This isn't unusual, of course. In fact, in America's long judicial history, has a pro athlete ever served on a jury? Name one, please, if you know. Pro athletes have certainly been tried by juries: If you Google "pro athletes" and "jury," you'll get 109,000 results, a few of them not Barry Bonds. But Google "pro athletes as jurors" and you'll do what the Big Breeze does.
Some states exempt from jury service people who work in jobs critical to the public welfare. But even though pro athletes perform the crucial public duty of hitting grounders and shooting free throws, they enjoy no formal exemption.
As legal scholars know, pro athletes lost their jury exemption because of the Batson v. Kentucky case, decided in 1951. In that landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision of a lower court that Saint Louis Browns second baseman Eddie "Batty" Batson, a resident of Kentucky, could no longer claim he was serving an essential role for the public, or even for his team, because his batting average had dipped below .200. Batson got an infield hit the day of the ruling, raising his average to .201 and sparing him from jury service. But Kentucky and other states could see the writing on the wall in light of the Batson decision, and began discarding their pro athlete exemptions.
Today, I assume pro athletes give jury service the slip the way most other rich people do—through judicious use of their clout. When responding to a summons, they may also emphasize the travel needs of their job, though I doubt that excuse is accepted as often when offered by a trucker.
Think how much better our maligned justice system might work if pro athletes occasionally served on juries. Athletes know the importance of reserving judgment; they've seen great first quarters lead to losses, and bad front nines lead to championships. They have a keen interest in fairness; many of them have been wrongly penalized by referees for responding to attacks initiated by others. Their endless hours sitting in dugouts and standing on sidelines have prepared them for a juror's key challenge, staying awake. Their poise under pressure would surely ease deliberations. "I told the other jurors we shouldn't let our emotions decide the case," jury foreman Carlos Zambrano might tell reporters after a trial.
Dunn in particular would make a great juror. Anyone who's watched him at the plate knows how carefully he weighs the evidence on every pitch. You can almost hear his painstaking deliberations, mixed with the occasional intrusive thought, as the ball rockets plateward: On the corner or outside? How far outside? Fastball or slider? Pork Chops or steak tonight? At the knees or below? Medium or rare? By the time he reaches a verdict on a pitch, the next one's on its way.
A person as skilled at withholding judgment as the Big Breeze would be a breath of fresh air in a jury room. It would be an excellent autograph opportunity for the other jurors. And it would be a relief for Dunn himself, since there is no booing in the jury room. More important from the White Sox point of view is the impact Dunn's jury service could have on the team's bottom line.
Dunn is a Texas resident. Texas jurors are paid $6 for their first day of service, and $40 for every day after that. This is slightly less than what Dunn makes for the Sox—$66,000 a day during his seven months' work. (Many of today's pro athletes train year-round; Dunn has said he spends his off seasons mainly fishing and hunting.) Since Texas law doesn't require employers to make up the difference between jury pay and the juror's usual earnings, each day Dunn spent on a jury would be a substantial savings for the Sox.
The club clearly needs to use its clout to get the Big Breeze on a jury. Preferably in a complicated case, with a drawn-out trial. One expected to last, say, three-and-a-half years.
So far: 64 games, 217 ABs, 91 Ks