Balky knees carry Hawk all the way to Hall
Newest electee endured pain throughout his career
NEW YORK -- The newest Hall of Famer was asked on Thursday whether he was more comfortable taking a seat to talk with reporters rather than standing to field questions immediately after his 35-minute news conference.He chose to stand. And this is a man who has already had two left knee-replacement surgeries and is looking down the gullet at a third one, on his right knee. It shouldn't have been surprising, because that's the way Andre Dawson played his entire career. Having never recovered properly from a high school football injury, "The Hawk" needed 12 procedures on both knees to make it through 21 seasons with four clubs -- the Expos, Cubs, Red Sox and Marlins. That left him with bone-on-bone, arthritic knees.
"[In 1981 at Montreal], I had a crack in my left kneecap, and I never went on the disabled list," Dawson said after the conference. "I just played on it. They wanted to do surgery after the season, but tissue was growing back, and it was starting to heal on its own. I told them, 'No way. Surgery is what got me in this situation in the first place.' "Playing three times a week, Dawson participated in 103 games that strike-torn season, when the Expos went to the National League Championship Series for the only time in their history and lost to the Dodgers on Rick Monday's ninth-inning homer in Game 5 at Olympic Stadium. He batted .302 with 24 homers and 64 RBIs on the season but went an anemic 3-for-20 with no extra-base hits and no RBIs in what was then a best-of-five series. Dawson's guts and gumption finally drove him into the hallowed Hall on Wednesday. A five-tool outfielder, he made it on his ninth try, earning 77.9 percent of the votes cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. His name was on 420 of the 539 ballots. Last year, he missed the cut with 67 percent of the vote. Dawson will be inducted on July 25 in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey, who were elected in December by the Veterans Committee. For his career, Dawson had 438 homers and 1,591 RBIs. He played his first 11 seasons with the Expos on the harsh artificial turf of what was called "The Big O" and his next six with the Cubs in the friendly confines and on the natural grass of Wrigley Field, but he was never a member of a team that went to the World Series. Dawson could very well be the second player to don an Expos cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, although that decision hasn't been made yet. Catcher Gary Carter, elected in 2003, is the first. Carter, like Dawson, played his first 11 years of a 19-year career in Montreal. Carter then moved to New York and spent the next five years with the Mets. Dawson followed his lengthy Montreal tour by playing six seasons with the Cubs, so precedence seems to have been set. The cap decision will be made in the days ahead by officials of the Hall of Fame, who have yet to meet to discuss the matter with Dawson, according to Hall President Jeff Idelson. (The decision as to which cap will be on a player's plaque was taken over by the Hall after the 2001 elections.) When Dawson donned his Hall of Fame jersey and cap on Thursday, he was seated at a table directly adjacent to a placard that had him dressed in Expos attire, but he said not to draw any conclusions from that. "No, that's no indication of the cap I'll wear," Dawson said. "I'll probably make that announcement sometime in the near future." Dawson played most of his career in pain. The various surgeries -- ranging from arthroscopic to various invasive cuts -- helped, but the procedures to remove pieces of floating cartilage and torn meniscus eventually left him with no support system in either knee. "What he did on a day-to-day basis was an absolute shock," said John Fierro, the Cubs' athletic trainer from 1987-96. "[I saw] X-rays of his knees and what he had to go through every day with his knees. He doesn't like to talk about it. He always felt that it was a negative, and he always accentuated the positive." Dawson said on Thursday that he still doesn't like to talk about it, but he went into great detail, saying that playing on the natural turf in Chicago and Boston gave him a lot of relief, though it didn't halt the deterioration process. "A lot of people only see the glamour side of the game," he said. "But as you know, a lot of preparation has to take place. As for myself, I had a very painful career. I had to take medication almost daily to go through those three hours on the field. The initial problem was a high school football injury. I didn't really do the physical therapy, so I never regained the range of motion in my left leg. "I was dismissed by the doctor and I was pretty much on my own. Over the years, I think, the wear and tear on Astroturf caused a lot of the problems in the other knee. I was usually the first one at the ballpark and the last one to leave, taping up my knees and icing them. That was my routine process. I knew that if I didn't take care of myself, I wouldn't have lasted as long as 10 years." By 1996, the second of his two years with the Marlins, Dawson decided it was time to retire. He wanted to walk away from his career on his own terms and not leave the game as an invalid.
A decade later, the pain had grown so intense that he decided to have the left knee replaced.The first operation, in October 2006, left him with only 75 percent range of motion, and he couldn't walk up stairs. In December of that year, doctors went back in and replaced some of the parts to alleviate that problem. Dawson said that the surgery had a positive effect on his right knee, eliminating much of the pain. "But even though the right knee has calmed down, it still needs to be replaced," he said. "That's something I'm not enthusiastic about rushing into." He has no timetable for the next surgery, but it won't get any easier during the next few months, considering the demands on all Hall of Famers prior to their induction. As the interviews ended on Thursday, though, the 109th player to be elected by the BBWAA still hadn't taken a seat.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com, This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.