New Heathens

Long Time Comin’, Hawk

Something I lobbied a long time for finally happened today. Former Chicago Cubs class act Andre Dawson, who played hard and hurt, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Thought I'd re-post something I wrote in January '09 under the title, "Put Andre Dawson In The Hall of Fame."

Nicknamed "The Hawk," Dawson was a formidable combination of power at the plate and speed on the bases plus a never-miss glove and a rifle arm. In his 21-year-career with the Montreal Expos, Cubs, Boston Red Sox and Florida Marlins, Dawson bashed 438 home runs, 2,774 hits and 1,591 RBIs. He also won eight Gold Gloves and played in eight All Star Games. He was Rookie of the Year in 1977 and MVP a decade later; the first ballplayer to ever win that award playing on a last place team (Sigh, you go Cubs). In 1993 he became the second player along with Willie Mays to hit 400 homers and steal 300 bases.

All, mind you, without steroids.

Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who along with Dawson and first baseman Mark Grace were my favorite players as a kid, said this about Dawson in his own Hall of Fame induction speech in 2005:

"He's the best I've ever seen...He did it the right way, the natural way...and I hope he will stand up here someday."

Cubs' shortstop Shawon Dunston told this story of Dawson facing off against legendary pitcher Nolan Ryan.

"When you hit a home run off Nolan Ryan, he meets you at third base. 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."

My parents met in Chicago so I inherited a love of the Cubs, Bears and Bulls (I just can't bring myself to root for any New York teams). Growing up I watched Dawson on WGN TV with Harry Caray doing the play-by-play. I saw him pinch-hit two grand slams in three days (only to have the Cubs lose both games). I saw him hit two home runs in one inning. I watched him make leaping and diving catches and gun down would-be scorers at the plate (and even first base). I also watched him get beaned by opposing pitchers and play on knees so painful that today he walks on replacements. He was such a fierce competitor, he even had a couple memorable freakouts.

In 1987, after many in baseball thought he was washed up after playing for a decade with bad knees on unfriendly astroturf in Montreal, Dawson wanted so badly to play for the Cubs on the natural grass of Wrigley Field that he showed up at spring training with a blank check and offered to play for whatever the ballclub would pay. The Cubs gave him the lowest salary of any player in baseball, $500,000. What did Dawson do? He mashed 49 home runs and 137 RBIs, won a Gold Glove, started the All Star game and won the MVP award.

For the rest of his career, fans in the bleachers at Wrigley bowed to him when he took his position.

Now Dawson can take his own bow.

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