12/23/09 7:00 PM EST.
Andre Dawson is a candidate on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the ninth year. The Class of 2010, which includes manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey from the Veterans’ Committee ballot, will be announced Jan. 6. You can watch the announcement live at 2 p.m. ET on an MLB Network simulcast on MLB.com.
On Jan. 6, Andre Dawson will go to the gym in the morning as usual. He’ll be home shortly after noon, and then wait to see if this is the year he gets the phone call.
This is the ninth year the outfielder known as “The Hawk” will be on the Hall of Fame ballot and he’s hoping this time, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America casts enough votes to send him to Cooperstown.
“I’ve talked to a lot of Hall of Famers and they’ve echoed the same sentiments,” Dawson said in a recent interview from his Miami area home. “They say, ‘You’ve just got to be patient. It’s eventually going to happen.'”
He’s a little more optimistic this year. The other players who finished ahead of Dawson in the voting are already enshrined.
“There’s no one to hurdle,” he said. “Unless something drastic happens where someone makes a big jump, hopefully, this is the year.”
He’s got plenty of supporters. Ryne Sandberg lobbied for Dawson in his Hall of Fame induction speech. Tony Perez, another member of Cooperstown’s elite, made a plea.
Any BBWAA members who aren’t convinced should have talked to Dawson’s teammates. Shortstop Shawon Dunston, who played with Dawson on the Chicago Cubs, remembers a game when they were leading the Astros, 10-0, in the fifth inning. Someone hit a ball to right and Dawson dove for it.
“[Cubs manager Don Zimmer] nearly lost his mind,” Dunston said, relaying the story. “Andre comes in and Zim says, ‘Andre, please don’t do that. Let the ball drop.’ And Andre says, ‘That’s the only way I know how to play.'”
Last year, Dawson received 361 votes, or 67 percent, in the balloting. Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice were the only players elected for induction, receiving 511 votes, or 94.8 percent, and 412 votes, or 76.4 percent, respectively.
A candidate must get 75 percent of the vote to gain election, with Dawson, former Twins ace Bert Blyleven (62.7 percent), and closer Lee Smith (44.5 percent) standing as the top three returning vote-getters. They’re joined on the ballot this year by a group of newcomers that includes All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar, Reds shortstop Barry Larkin and Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez.
The results will be announced on Jan. 6.
Perez, inducted into Cooperstown in 2000, is hoping Dawson can join him among the game’s elite.
“We all respect the way he played and the way he played even when he wasn’t 100 percent,” Perez said of Dawson. “Talk to any player who saw him play or played with him or against him, and they don’t understand why he isn’t in the Hall of Fame.”
During Sandberg’s induction speech at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005, he mentioned former teammates he respected because they played the game right. The slender slugger with the cannon arm was high on that list.
“No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson,” Sandberg said. “He’s the best I’ve ever seen.
“I watched him win an MVP for a last-place team in 1987 [with the Cubs], and it was the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen in baseball,” Sandberg said. “He did it the right way, the natural way, and he did it in the field and on the bases and in every way, and I hope he will stand up here someday.”
Maybe 2010 will be Dawson’s year.
There are players who are under suspicion for having used performance-enhancing drugs. Dawson has never been caught under that cloud of doubt. Maybe that gives him an edge?
“I think a lot of it has to do with what is the real criteria when you place your vote,” Dawson said. “Is it based on numbers, solely numbers, or whatever their thinking is? Writers can build you up and in the same breath, they can knock you down and destroy you with their opinion of what you do both on and off the field.
“If they’re going to make a case and stand by that, then, yes, [being clean] makes a lot of things stand out a little more,” he said. “Not that it’s necessary. I still feel I’ve garnished enough to get in based on some of the numbers of the other Hall of Famers. I’m never one to bicker about players and their numbers and how they got those numbers. It all boils down to each individual and each individual is a different case.”
In 21 big league seasons, beginning in 1976 with the Montreal Expos, Dawson batted .279 with 438 home runs, 1,591 RBIs and stole 314 bases. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1977 and won the NL MVP Award in 1987, his first season with the Cubs, when he hit .287 and led the league with 49 home runs and 137 RBIs.
One argument against Dawson getting into Cooperstown has been his career on-base percentage of .323.
“It seems like they’re trying to pick one statistic instead of looking at the overall picture,” Dawson said. “If I would’ve known that, I would’ve asked to be a leadoff hitter and would’ve walked a little more. … [It sounds like] you’re trying to find a reason why not to vote.”
Dawson joined the Cubs in an unusual way. After nine years in Montreal, he wanted to find a team that played on grass, unlike the artificial turf at Olympic Stadium. He approached the Cubs and general manager Dallas Green with a fill-in-the-blank contract. On March 9, 1987, Dawson signed for a base salary of $500,000 with $250,000 in incentives if he made the All-Star team, started in the All-Star Game and won the NL MVP. He did all three. It was one of the best bargains in baseball.
On April 29, 1987, Dawson hit for the cycle for the first time in his career, going 5-for-5 against San Francisco, and also threw out a runner at first on what seemed a sure single. In that game, he homered in the first inning, hit an RBI double in the third, singled in the fourth and tripled in the sixth.
Not even a fastball to his face could stop Dawson. On July 7, 1987, he was hit on the left cheek by an Eric Show pitch after hitting three homers in his previous five at-bats. Dawson received 24 stitches, missed two games and pinch-hit in a third before returning full-time. What was most impressive about the incident is that Dawson’s teammates charged Show and challenged him in defense of the Hawk.
The only things that could slow the quiet, soft-spoken outfielder were his knees, damaged by years on the unforgiving turf in Montreal. He had at least 12 surgeries, and had his knees drained at least three times a year, every year. These days, he’s had knee replacement surgery on one.
“He never complained about nothing,” Dunston said in an interview in September. “He would come in early to get in the hot tub, he’d loosen up, do his exercises. The trainers would tape his knees and he’d go out and take batting practice even though he was hurting. He’d go play and never say nothing.”
Fans in the right-field bleachers at Wrigley Field would bow to Dawson as he took the field. And rightfully so. Dawson also hit three homers in consecutive at-bats on Aug. 1, 1987, against Philadelphia.
Dawson is one of six players to hit 300 home runs and steal 300 bases. He’s the only eligible player with more than 1,000 career extra-base hits who is not in the Hall of Fame.
An eight-time Gold Glove winner and eight-time All-Star, Dawson totaled 100 RBIs four times, 20-plus homers 13 times, and 30-plus doubles five times. How feared of a hitter was he? On May 22, 1990, the Cincinnati Reds intentionally walked Dawson five times in a 16-inning game. The Cubs won, 2-1.
Mel Didier, the scout who first spotted Dawson, recalls a skinny center fielder for Florida A&M. Didier’s report stated: “This young man has as quick of a bat as Hank Aaron, who I had known with the Milwaukee Braves when he came up. Aaron had the quickest bat I’ve ever seen. Andre Dawson has a bat like that, and he can run and he can throw. He’s going to be an outstanding player.”
Dawson played for the Expos, the Cubs, the Boston Red Sox and the Florida Marlins, with whom he is still associated as a special assistant to the president.
Dunston has another story about Dawson he likes to share:
“When you hit a home run off Nolan Ryan, he meets you at third base,” Dunston said of the Hall of Fame pitcher who intimidated hitters. “But when Andre hit one [off Ryan], he stayed near the mound and waited for the ball. That impressed me a lot. That’s respect.”
That’s Andre Dawson.