Congratulations to the great Andre Dawson on being inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. Dawson used his speech as a platform to discuss the current state of the game.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — There are few better settings in baseball than the pastoral land near the Hall of Fame.
Each July baseball fans gather there to worship, celebrate or just remember some of the best players ever. Some arrive by bus, others park downtown and walk a mile south on Susquehanna Avenue to the Clark Sports Center, with ancient trees and stone walks lining the road.
It’s a route every fan should follow at least once. But for Sunday’s induction, it was only the second-best possible site.
How great would Andre Dawson’s induction have been at Wrigley Field, a stage set in right field, before legions of fans letting him know that they were not worthy?
Seldom has there been a more personal bond between a player and the fans that support him than the one that bloomed between Dawson and Cubs fans in 1987 and grew throughout five more seasons in the ballpark at Clark and Addison.
Dawson acknowledged the love affair repeatedly during his speech, which came under bright skies after drizzling rain had fallen when umpire Doug Harvey and manager Whitey Herzog were being inducted.
“I never knew what it felt like to be loved by a city until I arrived in Chicago,” Dawson told a crowd estimated at 10,000. “You are the reason I kept playing the game. I can’t thank you enough for what you gave to me. You were the wind beneath the Hawk’s wings.”
Offered a pay cut after 10 years of playing his hardest for the Montreal Expos, Dawson was disillusioned in the winter of 1986-87. He was not being pursued by other teams — a development that was driven in part by collusion among owners — and thought about going to Japan to play when his agent, Dick Moss, came up with the idea of letting the Cubs sign Dawson for whatever they felt he was worth — the so-called blank-check contract.
Despite frequent problems with his aching knees, Dawson would play another 10 years after he worked out the deal with then-Cubs general manager Dallas Green, including two in Boston and two for his hometown Florida Marlins before retiring after 1996.
A Most Valuable Player on a last-place team in ’87, he would end his career with a .279 average, 438 home runs, 1,591 runs batted in, 314 stolen bases and eight Gold Gloves, the first four of which were earned playing center field.
The significance of his being embraced by Cubs fans is even acknowledged on his Hall of Fame plaque, which calls him a “leader by example” and says he was “revitalized by his arrival in Chicago.”