Profile by BCB reader San Diego Smooth Jazz Man
Coming to any baseball team via free agency can be a cumbersome process.
Agents, lawyers, the team's General Manager ... there are usually many people to stir the pot. There are times the player doesn't even get involved -- save for a `meet and greet' with the team -- then, the deal-makers hit the back room, and the final decision is hammered out.
Even though Andre Dawson did come to the Cubs via free agency -- the way the system worked wasn't the norm. In fact, his arrival in Chicago would probably rate as one of the most unusual player acquisions by the Cubs -- and for that matter, by any team -- in the history of Major League Baseball. That's just part of the story of the rightfielder who came to be known as "The Hawk".
Andre Nolan Dawson, born in Miami, Florida on July 10, 1954, was an 11th-round pick of the Montreal Expos out of Florida A&M University in 1975. Fast-tracking to the big leagues, he began his major league career playing in the relative obscurity of Montreal only a year later with a September callup in 1976. In his first full season with the Expos, 1977, Dawson hit .282, with 19 homers and 65 RBI and was named National League Rookie Of The Year With Montreal, he set club records for home runs, extra base hits, and still holds the franchise record for sacrifice flies (71). He was the only Expo to hit 200 homers and steal 200 bases with that club.
However, back in high school, Dawson suffered a knee injury that would plague him during his professional career. Playing on the hard artificial turf of Olympic Stadium in Montreal just worsened Dawson's knee troubles. The Hawk wanted out of Montreal badly after his contract expired at the end of the 1986 season. He had made noises about coming to the Cubs -- having always hit well in Wrigley Field, including a three-homer, eight-RBI day there against the Cubs on September 24, 1985, a wacky game in which the Expos roared out to a 15-3 lead after six innings but held on to win 17-15 after the Cubs scored twelve runs in the last three innings and had the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the 9th.
But. And this is a big "but" -- the free agent class of 1987 ran into a problem. None of the team owners attempted to sign free agents. Some of the teams said it was "coincidental." No team offered Dawson a contract. (For that matter, other big name free agents of that year -- Tim Raines, Lance Parrish, Bob Boone, Bob Horner -- and others, also were ignored. It was later determined that MLB owners were in "collusion" and were deliberately NOT signing free agents to try to bring to the price of players. All of these agents, including Dawson were eventually awarded compensation, and eventually, owners were fined to the tune of 280 million dollars.)
Dawson (with his agent in the shadows) tried to take matters into his own hands. As noted above, he wanted to play for the Cubs -- badly. He saw Wrigley Field as a ballpark tailor-made to his game. So, he made a move -- a bit bold, but it eventually worked. He went to then-Cubs GM Dallas Green. He allegedly said -- "I want to play for the Cubs. I'll sign a blank contract. You pay me what you see to be appropriate." Well, this `announcement' was a very popular one with the Cubs -- including pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who offered to pay 100-thousand dollars of Dawson's salary if Green would sign Dawson.
The Hawk never did sign that blank contract (even though legend says he did) but Dallas Green came to his senses, and signed Dawson to a deal estimated to be for $650,000, far less than what Dawson could have received had there been a truly open market.
What a bargain Dallas Green and the Cubs picked up! Andre, rejuvenated by the move to Chicago was tremendous. Dawson smashed 49 homers (at the time, the second-most in club history, behind only Hack Wilson, and, it's important to note in the context of the time, the most anyone had hit in the major leagues in ten seasons, since George Foster's 52 in 1977), with 137 RBI, and was named the NL's MVP. However, the Cubs finished last that year. The MVP -- from one of the worst teams in the NL that season. Think about that -- it's almost impossible to accomplish that. (It has happened once since, and that's Alex Rodriguez's 2003 MVP with the Texas Rangers.) There was something special that Dawson brought to the field, a happiness (probably to be out of Montreal) that -- it seems, everyone in baseball latched onto. Sure, his numbers were great -- but an MVP from a last place team? In retrospect, it's utterly amazing, but it didn't seem so at the time. To my mind, it would have been an injustice had Dawson not been awarded the MVP. Perhaps completely explaining this will take another essay, at another time.
Anyway, The Hawk quickly became one of the Cubs' most popular players ever. He rivaled Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams, and Ryne Sandberg for fan adoration. Here's usually what happened when Andre would go to RF, after doing something spectacular -- the RF bleacherites would stand, bow, and add a "salaam" motion, with right arms outstretched.
In Dawson's own words, during that MVP season, "Everything was too good to be true. I could talk, mix, and have a relationship (with Cubs fans), something I had been unable to do in Montreal."
[Note from Al: on September 27, 1987, a sunny Sunday which was the final home game of that year, Dawson came up to bat in the 8th inning against Bill Dawley of the Cardinals, to a tremendous standing ovation in what was obviously going to be his last home at-bat of his magical season. The Cubs had a 6-3 lead, but somehow, everyone in the park just knew he was going to hit one more home run to put the exclamation point on his wonderful season. On a 3-1 count Dawson got a high fastball and hit a majestic homer, his forty-seventh -- he would hit two more during the season-ending six-game road trip -- far onto Waveland Avenue. It wasn't a goosebump season, far from it -- but that was a special moment in Wrigley Field history.]
Two years later, Dawson was a vital cog in the "Boys Of Zimmer," the 1989 Cubs of manager Don Zimmer that won the NL East. However, his knees started to act up again, and he needed surgery early in the season. Thus, Andre was able to play in only 118 games; he had 21 HR and 77 RBI. The Cubs lost the 1989 NLCS to the Giants, 4 games to 1, and Andre had a poor series, going only 2-for-19.
The Hawk continued to put up good numbers with the Cubs, but his skills were diminishing and his knees were aching. He was nearing the end of the line. He played for the Red Sox and Marlins before retiring. Andre is still part of the Marlins' front office.
Dawson retired with 2774 hits, 438 home runs, 314 stolen bases, and 1591 RBI. He is only one of six players to have 300 HR's and over 300 stolen bases. He was an eight-time All Star, and won eight Gold Gloves. At Ryne Sandberg's Hall of Fame induction speech, he honored Dawson by saying "he is the best player I ever played with."
Andre returned the favor on August 28, 2005, when the Cubs retired Sandberg's number at a special ceremony. The Cubs were playing the Marlins that day, and Dawson, wearing his old #8, went out to RF with Ron Santo, Billy Williams, and Ernie Banks to hoist Ryno's retired #23 flag up the pole. I was lucky enough to be at that game on a brilliant Sunday afternoon in Wrigley Field, and to see all of the Cubs Hall of Famers (with the two others that should also be in the Hall -- Santo & Dawson) together was a thrill. Then another Cub star, Derrek Lee, smacked two homers as the Cubs mashed the Marlins 14-3.
The Cubs have had some terrific players patrol right field over the years -- of course, Billy Williams, and Sammy Sosa come to mind. But for six years from the late 80s to the early 90s's - Cubs fans loved "The Hawk."