Sunday dawned foggy and gloomy, and as the day lurched forward, sheets of cold rain poured through the Chicago-area skies, and with winds howling out of the northeast, it called to my mind the term longtime Chicagoans used for such a wind...
With the 38-degree temperature this afternoon, it felt like Opening Day weather, so it was a good day for Mike and me to drive out to Rockford.
Rockford? Why Rockford? And why mention "The Hawk"?
If you have been reading this blog and its predecessor for a while, you know that my friend Dave from the bleachers, is the owner of the Rockford Riverhawks of the Frontier League. They won their league championship in 2004, and this afternoon, were hosting their annual Fan Fest at JD's Sports Bar in Rockford.
And the featured guest was ... the man we knew as The Hawk, future Hall of Famer (yes, I'm certain of this) Andre Dawson.
Hey, we know a guy. So Brian got us tickets, and Mike & I drove through the pouring rain to spend an afternoon with Andre. Ex-Cub Steve "Rainbow" Trout was also there, along with several members of the Riverhawks (including Dave's sons Kevin and Jake), Negro League veteran Ernie Westfield and some of the women who played for the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, all signing autographs and posing for photos.
As expected, Andre Dawson was soft-spoken and friendly throughout what for him must have been a long afternoon of signing. This points up the difference between the star players of only 15 years ago and now.
Before Sammy (in fact, immediately before Sammy -- the emergence of Sosa was one of the main reasons Dawson was not re-signed after the 1992 season), Andre patrolled right field for the Cubs, was beloved just as much as Sammy, and always conducted himself in a forthright and classy way on and off the field. In an era when players have to be virtually forced to waive untenable contract clauses, it's wise to remember the days when Andre Dawson showed up at the Cubs' training camp at Mesa with a blank signed contract, challenging then-GM Dallas Green to sign him at any price (he got a huge bargain, getting Andre's 1987 MVP season for $500,000) -- that's how much he wanted to play for the Cubs.
I will remember how Dawson, playing through knees wrecked by years of Montreal Astroturf, had a miserable second half of the 1989 season and vanished in the NLCS that year -- only afterward did we learn that he probably shouldn't have been playing at all.
Someday Andre will be elected to the Hall of Fame. I think his numbers are today seen in a bit of a lesser light because of the offensive explosion which began as he was retiring. Now, given all the recent steroid revelations, that offensive explosion itself can be seen in another, not so positive, light. Dawson's career numbers are roughly comparable to Billy Williams' (well, except he also stole 314 bases, and the combination of over 400 HR and 300 SB is matched only by Barry Bonds and Willie Mays) -- and so is his demeanor, quiet and classy.
He hit 49 home runs in a season in a time when 49 home runs actually meant something -- though to be fair, in 1987, when he did this, everyone and his brother and his cousin and their buddies hit home runs (Wade Boggs, whose career high otherwise was 11, hit 24 that year, for example), but it was still a magical season, even though the Cubs stunk and finished last. What I will remember most about that year is this:
On the last day of the home season that year, September 27, the Cubs faced the Cardinals in what was an absolutely meaningless game for the Cubs (the Cardinals did need to win a few more games before they clinched the NL East that year). And throughout the day, a bright, crisp, sunny early fall day, the assembled crowd of 33,912 was paying tribute to Andre's wonderful year, probably the best offensive season any Cub had had in nearly a decade (since Dave Kingman's 48-homer outburst of 1979).
In the eighth inning, with the Cubs leading 6-3, Andre came up, having already singled and scored twice, and you knew he was going to hit a home run. It was in the air. I can't say how, but everyone in the place knew it.
He ran the count off Cardinal reliever Bill Dawley to 3-1 and then smacked a fastball onto Waveland Avenue, his forty-seventh homer of the year. It was one of the most magical moments I've ever experienced at Wrigley Field.
So today, I remember that day, and all the memories from this man, who graced our ballpark with elegance and style for six seasons. Thank you, Andre Dawson.