Fathers have been taking sons to baseball games since the old game was invented well over 150 years ago. In the place I still call home, that tradition started early, as I can faintly remember my dad taking me to Red Sox games when I was as young as (about) six years of age.
But April 15, 1993 was no ordinary father-and-son trip to Fenway Park. This was the day my dad, I and thousands of other members of the Fenway Faithful would witness baseball history, as Andre “The Hawk” Dawson launched a towering home run, the 400th of his illustrious career and first in a Boston uniform. Even as a 13-year-old kid, I knew the significance of that magic number and what I witnessed, which was a veteran slugger practically cementing (or rather, launching) his case for as spot in MLB’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Sunday afternoon in Cooperstown was a special day for an exclusive club of individuals, five in all. Longtime play-by-play announcer Jon Miller won the Ford C. Frick Award the Hall gives out every year to a broadcaster who has given “major contributions to baseball.” New York Daily News sportswriter Bill Madden was the winner of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award given out yearly by the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America), and Doug Harvey became just the ninth umpire inducted into the Hall. World Series champ and former St. Louis Cardinals skipper Whitey Herzog also got his long deserved induction.
And last but in no way least, after nine inexplicable years of waiting to be voted in, Andre Dawson finally took his place in the hallowed Hall and rounded out the Class of 2010’s inductees with a stirring and memorable speech. In it, he paid tribute to his late mother (who was everything to him, since he grew up without a father in a poor family), expressed gratitude to former Players Association leader Marvin Miller, made the pitch for ex-Cubs teammate Lee Smith – who has 478 saves, third all-time – and Expos supreme speedster Tim Raines – who earned 808 stolen base and a .385 career OBP – to be inducted in future Classes.
Perhaps most notably of all, The Hawk softly advised current players not to be “moved to the dark side” by using PEDs like so many (unnamed) others have done over the years, which as Dawson rightly notes, has “hurt the game and taken a toll on all of us” and become a “stain” that is “gradually being removed.”
As far as Dawson himself is concerned, there is little doubt that during his 21 seasons (1976-1996) in Montreal, Chicago, Boston, and finally in his native state of Florida with the Marlins, the center fielder/right fielder played the game right and clean. The man had 13 knee surgeries during his pro and college career and could’ve easily benefited from the anabolic steroids, but he knew better than to tarnish his legacy with quick, illegal fixes. Instead, he iced down and repaired his injuries the hard way over the years and still put out consistent and team-leading power numbers year after year for the bulk of his career and on teams not known for producing tons of power strokers.
Was his career definitely Hall of Fame worthy? Year by year, his numbers look mildly impressive now compared to the steroid-inflated numbers of most of the past 15 years, and maybe he and others (like Jim Rice) were punished by that in past years of Hall voting, fairly or unfairly, despite the fact that he hit the magic number of 400 homers, which used to be an automatic ticket to Cooperstown. But he finished with 438 career homers, 1591 RBIs, 2,774 hits, along with eight Gold Gloves in the outfield, eight all-star selections, the NL Rookie of the Year honor (1977, with the Expos), one MVP award (1987, with the Cubs), two MVP runner-up placements, four Silver Slugger awards and 314 stolen bases (which is a ton for a power hitter).
Like recent inductee Jim Rice, the man was one of the most feared hitters of his time, as he got intentionally walked 143 times in his career, including a league-leading total 21 times in 1990, his 15th year in MLB. So in short, I’d say yes he definitely deserves his induction. Sure, it took over 20 seasons for him to get those numbers, but if the likes of Tony Perez can get rewarded for longevity (23 years) and inducted based on more or less similar numbers, so too can The Hawk.
Look further at what Dawson’s contributions meant in the National League he played most of his career in and to the two main franchises in particular that he made his name with, the Expos and the Cubs. Dawson’s 409 homers and 962 extra base hits placed him 10th in National League history when he retired. He played over a decade in Montreal and left there (for the Cubs) the all-time franchise leader in homers, runs, games played, at-bats, hits, doubles, triples, runs batted in, extra base hits, total bases and steals. When all was said and done, Dawson left the game as one of only six players in baseball history with both 300+ homers and 300+ stolen bases on his resume. Now that is a Hall of Fame-worthy accomplishment if I ever heard one.
No doubt, had the steroid era not existed, the likes of Jim Rice and Andre Dawson would have been elected to the Hall sooner than they have in these last two years. But they are in, at long last. Now, if only the voting baseball writers would get their heads out of their asses and vote in Bert Blyleven to the Hall already!
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