Hawk Soaring

Andre Dawson is Leading Returning Vote-Getter on BBWAA Ballot

By CRAIG MUDER

December 15, 2009

 

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- He was baseball’s most complete player for a decade, a five-tool star who won three Silver Sluggers and six Gold Gloves in his first nine big league seasons.

But as spring training of 1987 approached, Andre Dawson found himself out of work.

Andre Dawson is one of 26 players on the BBWAA ballot for the Class of 2010 at the Hall of Fame. (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

“I wanted to convince the baseball world that I would indeed perform better under different circumstances,” said Dawson, who turned down a two-year, $2 million offer from the only club he had ever played for – the Montreal Expos – to test the free agent market. “Those circumstances being: To get away from the AstroTurf and onto a natural playing field.”

The answer seemed to be the Chicago Cubs and their Wrigley Field home – featuring natural grass and generous portions of day baseball. The Cubs, however, seemed to have lukewarm interest at best in a player whose legendary intensity had earned him the nickname “Hawk.”

But on March 6, Dawson and his agent Dick Moss presented Cubs’ general manager Dallas Green a blank one-year deal. Green filled in the amount: $500,000, plus $150,000 if Dawson was not on the disabled list with a knee injury before the All-Star break and $50,000 for making the All-Star team.

Seven months later, it turned out to be one of baseball’s best-ever bargains – and Dawson's signature season.

Dawson, 55, is one of 26 players on the 2010 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2010 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 6.

Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 25 in Cooperstown.

Dawson received 67 percent of the BBWAA vote last year -- the most of any player returning to this year's BBWAA ballot. The eight-time All-Star began his steady climb up the BBWAA results in 2002, when he received 45.3 percent of the vote in his first year eligible. Dawson fell just 44 votes short of election in 2009.

An 11th-round draft pick by the Expos in 1975, Dawson shot through Montreal’s minor league system and made his big league debut on Sept. 11, 1976. The following year, Dawson was named the club’s starting center fielder by future Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams. Dawson responded with 19 homers, 65 RBI and 21 stolen bases en route to the National League Rookie of the Year award.

In the next nine seasons, Dawson averaged almost 23 homers and 26 stolen bases per year – and established himself as one of the best center fielders in baseball. In 1983, Dawson was voted the best player in the game in a New York Times survey of major leaguers.

“Comparing him to anyone else in baseball is unfair,” said then-Braves manager Joe Torre. “If I could have any player in baseball, I’d take Andre Dawson.”

During his time in Montreal, Dawson at times was overshadowed by a group of young players who would lead the Expos to the brink of greatness. The team’s outfield of Warren Cromartie, Ellis Valentine and Dawson was considered one of baseball’s best, and future Hall of Famer Gary Carter was already carving out his legend behind home plate.

In 1981, Dawson helped Montreal qualify for the postseason for the first time. He hit .300 in the Expos’ five-game series win over Philadelphia in the Division Series, but was held in check by the Dodgers when they took the National League Championship Series in five games.

Meanwhile, 10-plus seasons on the rock-hard artificial surface at Olympic Stadium took its toll on Dawson’s knees. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Dawson always looked lighter than he was because of his sculpted body and graceful strides, but the weight of his strong upper-body muscles exacted a price from his knees and legs.

By the winter of 1987, Dawson knew he had to make a change.

“I have actually jammed the back of my heel when I stomped (on artificial turf),” said Dawson, who by the time he was 30 was regularly having his knees drained due to swelling. “You hear guys complaining about lower back pain. It’s a type of shock you can’t describe.”

So Dawson targeted the Cubs, and once he was signed came out of the gate swinging. In his first 14 games, Dawson hit .453 with six doubles, seven homers and 19 RBI. He didn’t stop until he had 49 homers, 137 RBIs and a Gold Glove for his stellar play at his new position: right field.

He beat out Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith to win the National League Most Valuable Player award – becoming the first member of a last-place team to take home the hardware.

“I felt strong all season,” said Dawson, who also led the NL in total bases that season with a career-high 353. “I would wake up in the morning and just look forward to going to the ballpark.”

Dawson spent five more productive seasons with the Cubs, helping Chicago win the NL East title in 1989 while averaging 25 homers and 90 RBI. He finished his career with two seasons apiece with the Red Sox and Marlins – highlighted by winning the Hutch Award for baseball spirit and competitive drive in 1994 with the Red Sox – before retiring following the 1996 season.

By then, Dawson had undergone 12 knee operations. But his grit and determination had produced 438 home runs, 2,774 hits, 1,591 RBI and 314 stolen bases, leaving him as one of six players – along with Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds, Barry Bonds, Steve Finley and Reggie Sanders – to have 300 career home runs and 300 career stolen bases. Only three players – Mays, Barry Bonds and Dawson – belong to the 400-homer, 300-steal club.

When he reached the 400-homer plateau in 1993, Dawson became just the 25th member of that club. He finished his career with eight All-Star Game selections and another eight Gold Gloves.

Not bad for a player who many thought was finished in that cold winter of 1987.

“Mentally, (the pain) wears you down, and you’re always thinking about it, especially when you can’t do the things you want to do,” Dawson said. “When you have a problem and you don’t give it time, it’s not going to respond positively.”

Dawson, however, never needed much time to recover from his injuries. In his 17 seasons as a big league regular, Dawson appeared in more than 89 percent of his team’s games.

The green grass of Chicago not only lengthened Dawson’s career, but it may have saved it.

“My six years with the Cubs pretty much got my career rejuvenated,” Dawson said. “As far as I am concerned, there is no better place to play.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Connections

 

 

Players on the
2010 BBWAA Ballot


The Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) considers the candidacies of players who have played at least 10 major league seasons and been retired five seasons. Twenty-six players appear on the ballot for the Class of 2010 with results to be announced on January 6.

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