Fresh start in Chicago leads Hawk to Hall
Dawson offers blank contract, wins MVP; to attend Convention
CHICAGO -- Go ahead, Cubs fans, and bow for Andre Dawson just as you did when he patrolled right field at Wrigley Field. He's finally in the Hall of Fame.
Dawson made it into Cooperstown on his ninth try, receiving 77.9 percent of the vote by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. He needed 75 percent; last year, he missed the cut with 67 percent. The slender outfielder with the rifle arm known as "The Hawk" will be inducted July 25 in Cooperstown along with manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey.
Chicago fans will get a chance to salute Dawson in person when he attends the annual Cubs Convention Jan. 15-17 at the Chicago Hilton.
"Andre was one of the elite players of my era," said Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, who lobbied for his teammate during his induction speech in Cooperstown in 2005. "Not only was he a terrific player, but his work ethic, his character and the way he played the game of baseball was very deserving of this honor bestowed upon him today.
"On the field, Andre was a five-tool player with one of the best arms in the outfield that I've ever seen. His stolen bases combined with his home run totals are certainly Hall of Fame numbers. He represented the teams that he played on with class and always had a team-first attitude."
Dawson came to the Cubs in an unprecedented way. He had played 10 seasons in Montreal on the artificial turf and knew he couldn't continue there because of the wear and tear on his knees. On Wednesday, he admitted he had suffered a fractured right knee after four seasons with the Expos, which he had hid. He's since had two knee replacement surgeries.
To get out of Montreal, Dawson told his wife, Vanessa, that he was considering playing in Japan. She thought he was crazy. Vanessa must have thought her husband had lost his mind when he and agent Dick Moss suggested offering the Cubs a blank contract. They told then-Chicago general manager Dallas Green to fill in the amount.
"[Green] called me and he said, 'I've gone through this and I let my attorneys view it and there seems to be no gimmicks about it,'" Dawson said. "He said, 'The best thing I can do is offer you $500,000.' I said, 'Fine. When can I report?' [Green] paused and said, 'Can I get back to you?'"
Green then called an hour later, welcomed Dawson and told him that he could take his time in coming to Spring Training camp. Dawson, naturally, said he'd be there the next day. And he was.
"If they would make an offer and be really serious about it, I was going to be man enough to say, 'OK, we have an agreement,'" Dawson said Wednesday. "I think they made an offer for me to turn down. I wanted the game to be fun again, and monetary issues weren't an issue at that point."
It was one of the best deals Green ever made. Dawson won the National League MVP that year, the first to do so for a last-place team. He did get off to a slow start. Heading into a game April 22 in St. Louis, he was batting .167. It was the top of the seventh and the Cubs were trailing, 3-1. The bases were loaded and Dawson connected on a grand slam off Todd Worrell to give Chicago a 5-4 win.
"From there, things started to happen on a daily basis," Dawson said. "For the most part of six years I was there, I really enjoyed the reception and the fact that I got to play in front of fans who really didn't put any pressure on you."
They simply respected his work ethic and professionalism.
"The Chicago Cubs congratulate Andre Dawson on his long-deserved election to Baseball's Hall of Fame," Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said. "'The Hawk' registered six outstanding seasons on the North Side, none finer than his 1987 MVP season, when he paced the league with 49 home runs and 137 RBIs.
"An eight-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner, Andre created countless memories for our fans and, along with fellow Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, helped bring playoff baseball to Chicago in 1989. We look forward to celebrating Andre's election with him and our fans when he attends next week's Cubs Convention."
Dawson is the 46th former member of the Cubs organization to earn baseball's highest honor. However, whether he'll wear a Cubs cap is still to be determined. The Hall of Fame decides which cap players wear.
Don Zimmer, who was the Cubs manager from 1988-91, and had both Dawson and Sandberg on his teams, was giddy at the news Wednesday.
"If I was in good enough shape, I'd run down the highway right now," Zimmer said from his home near Tampa, Fla. "It couldn't happen to a better man. He deserves it, and it was a pleasure to manage a man like that."
Zimmer tried to talk Dawson into resting before games to preserve his knees. Dawson had an extensive pre-practice routine, then would take his turn in the cage to hit, then shag fly balls, then come in to re-tape his knees for the game.
"I said to him and to Sandberg a couple times, 'You guys play every inning of every game, why don't you take a day off from infield practice?' And they'd say, 'That's part of our routine,'" Zimmer said. "I said, 'That's good enough for me.'"
|"Not only was he a terrific player, but his work ethic, his character and the way he played the game of baseball was very deserving of this honor bestowed upon him today."|
|-- Ryne Sandberg, on Andre Dawson|
"When they made that trade, they said, 'Montreal was a cinch now to win,'" Zimmer said. "The first game we played against Montreal, Langston threw Dawson a pitch that was not out of the strike zone but was eye-high, and he hit it over the center-field fence. He 'tommy-hawked' that ball. I couldn't believe it. That was the talk of the game that day."
The homer came in the first inning and was a three-run blast to deep center. The Cubs won, 5-4, and were in first place. They would win the division that year.
"He never gave an at-bat away, that I can remember," Green said.
Dawson said Wednesday that playing in Chicago was rejuvenating. Not only was he no longer playing half the season on the rock-hard artificial turf, but he was in a major market where fans understood the game. Baseball was fun again. That year didn't start out well. His grandmother, the matriarch of the family, had passed away earlier in 1987.
"It was all part of a new beginning for me," he said. "The toughest thing for me that season was to close [my grandmother's] coffin. I vowed not to put any pressure on myself with a new organization. The Cubs fans, they played a huge role. They embraced me right from Day 1. They allowed me to relax and have fun."
On Wednesday, Dawson stopped by the graves of his grandmother and his mother. Neither of them saw him play professional ball live. Then he went home to water the bonsai and wait for the call.
Mel Didier, who was the Expos scouting director and originally drafted Dawson, was ecstatic at the news.
"This is one of the greatest moments of my life because he's one of the best persons to ever walk," Didier said Wednesday. "And the work he put in to be great -- oh man!"
"When you talk about running, with his bad leg, he ran good," Zimmer said. "He had great power, he was a great fielder and a great thrower. He had everything. That's why he's in the Hall of Fame."
Shawon Dunston was lockered next to Dawson -- which was an odd pairing since the former Cubs shortstop was never at a loss for words and Dawson barely said anything.
"People always talk about intangibles," Dunston said. "He had his bad knees and never complained, not once. He never asked to come out of a game, if we were winning 10-0 or down 10-0. 'Zim' had to ask him, 'Andre, do you want to come out of the game?' and Andre would say, 'Zim, you're the manager. I'd prefer to stay.'
"It's nice to see that everybody, even other superstars, give Andre respect. It made me feel good, he was my buddy."
And now Dawson is a Hall of Famer.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.