You all know about what Cubs GM Dallas Green called a “dog-and-pony show,” the curious little dance that resulted in Andre Dawson signing with the Cubs. It was clear, when Dawson left the Montreal Expos as a free agent after 1986, that the Cubs would be a good fit for him. And Dawson wanted to play on a grass field after a decade of having his knees chewed up by the artificial turf in Montreal. (In the 1980s, half of the 12 National League fields were turf.)
Dawson finally gave Green a blank contract at spring training and told him he’d sign for whatever Green put on the blank. Backed into a corner, Green got Dawson for $500,000, a small figure even in those days. Owners wound up paying $280 million after being found guilty of collusion in not signing free agents before the 1987 season.
Andre didn’t start out well as a Cub. After 14 games in blue pinstripes he was hitting .179/.233/.357 (10-for-56) with three home runs. Some Cubs fans were scratching their heads about him and then he went on a tremendous hot streak. Next 10 games: .512/.565/1.146 (21-for-41) with six doubles, a triple and six home runs and the love affair of “Andre’s Army” for “The Hawk” at Wrigley Field had begun.
The 1987 Cubs, though, weren’t a very good team. They were in first place for a while in May and hung around in contention through a ridiculous 22-7 win over the Astros June 3, at which time they went on a 12-18 skid that pretty much killed any chance of a division title that year, even with Dawson hitting home runs and Rick Sutcliffe putting up another Cy Young-quality season (he probably should have won the award instead of Steve Bedrosian, one of the worst-ever Cy choices).
Dawson went into August with very good, though not spectacular, numbers: .285/.318/.549 with 28 home runs. Then he went on an August tear, beginning the month with a three-homer game against the Phillies in which he was pretty much the entire offense in a 5-3 win, driving in all five runs (the rest of the team had just four hits that afternoon). Andre hit 15 baseballs out of the yard in August in a .306/.361/.736 month — 15 home runs out of 34 total hits that month.
With 43 homers at the end of August, there was brave talk of 60, or at least maybe getting to Hack Wilson’s franchise-record 56. Keep in mind that entering 1987, only two MLB players (Willie Mays and George Foster) had hit even 50 home runs since Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s season record in 1961. The only Cubs to hit even 40 home runs since Ernie Banks in 1961 were Billy Williams (42 in 1970) and Dave Kingman (48 in 1979). The idea of a 50-homer season transfixed Cubs fans, as at the time Hack Wilson’s club-record total in 1930 was the franchise’s only 50-homer season.
And then Dawson stopped hitting home runs. Over his first 21 games of September he hit just two, giving him 45 for the season. A three-game weekend home series remained against the Cardinals, the final Wrigley games of 1987, and there was little hope Andre could even match Kingman’s 48 before he bade the Friendly Confines goodbye for the winter.
He homered in the Friday game, a two-run shot in the first inning, and it held up for a 2-1 Cubs win. The Cubs and Sutcliffe lost the next day without anyone homering, and so on a brilliantly sunny late September Sunday with temperatures in the low 80s, a perfect baseball day, Andre had one last game to deliver a perfect ending to his magical season. In 73 previous games played that year at Wrigley, Dawson had hit 26 home runs. Hitting home runs isn’t easy, especially if the player is trying to do so.
Even with all that, I felt sure, absolutely sure, that Andre would hit one last home run at Wrigley Field in 1987.
Bob Dernier homered leading off the bottom of the first — his last as a Cub, incidentally. Dawson came up to bat that inning with two out and struck out.
Rafael Palmeiro homered leading off the bottom of the fourth. Dawson, up next, singled. He singled again in the fifth, and struck out for a second time for the final out of the sixth. The Cubs were leading the game 5-1 after six and at this point, the Cubs would need to put at least three more men on base to guarantee Andre another plate appearance.
Keith Moreland homered with one out in the seventh — his last Cub homer at Wrigley. Two more hits in the inning assured Andre of batting in the eighth.
Ryne Sandberg and Palmeiro began that bottom of the eighth by grounding out. With two out, up stepped Dawson, to a tremendous ovation, to face Cardinals reliever Bill Dawley. Dawley ran the count to 3-1 and I can only speak for myself, but I think every single person in Wrigley Field that Sunday afternoon knew this was going to happen on the next pitch [VIDEO].
Write a Hollywood script like that and they’ll laugh you out of the producer’s office. In the grand sweep of Cubs history that home run didn’t mean much, the last run of a 7-3 win in a season the team finished in last place in the N.L. East.
But as theater? As an indelible memory? For goosebumps? Check, check and check. This home run was hit nearly 33 years ago and my memory of that ball sailing onto Waveland Avenue is as fresh as the day it happened. Andre Dawson is one of the most beloved players in Cubs history and that home run is one of the reasons.
Andre hit two more homers on the Cubs’ season-ending road trip for a total of 49, which stood as the second-highest total in franchise history until Sammy Sosa began slamming Cubs homers a few years later.