Dawson's grace stands tall at Hall
Hawk remembers Sandberg's helping hand, offers one of his own to Raines, Smith
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- There are players who command respect within the confines of the clubhouse, and others, like Andre Dawson, who exude an almost regal quality when they walk into a room. The more deliberately Dawson speaks, and the more muted the volume, the more his audience strains to hear every word.
Dawson spent nine years on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, and when the time came to deliver his induction speech Sunday, he didn't waste the opportunity to drive home some important themes. As a power-hitting outfielder with statistics that fall short of the inflated numbers of the late 1990s and early 2000s, he addressed the performance-enhancing drug issue without naming names or even using the word "steroid,'' but loudly and forcefully enough to let the world know where he stands.
The players who took shortcuts know who they are, and what they did, and Dawson doesn't need to grab them by the collar and pin them against a wall to make his point.
"Baseball will from time to time, like anything else in life, fall victim to the mistakes that people make,'' Dawson said. "It's not pleasant and it's not right. Those mistakes have hurt the game and taken a toll on all of us. Individuals have chosen the wrong road and have chosen that as their legacy. Others still have a chance to choose theirs. Do not be moved to the dark side. It's a stain on the game, a stain gradually being removed.''
During a 23-minute ode to eloquence and grace, Dawson also thanked the mother who raised him, the two children who make him proud and the wife who made late-night runs for ice bags and anti-inflammatory medication when the pain in his knees was so acute he couldn't get out of bed. He praised the doctors and trainers who tended to and repaired him, and found time to express his gratitude to Marvin Miller, the former MLB Players Association leader whose contribution so often escapes notice by the players he helped enrich.
Amid those poignant moments, Dawson also delivered a message on loyalty, and the importance of paying it forward.
Five years ago, Ryne Sandberg helped strengthen Dawson's Hall of Fame candidacy with an endorsement on the podium at Cooperstown. After the rain stopped and the skies cleared Sunday on the field at the Clark Sports Center, Dawson pulled off a two-fer:
First he gave a plug to former Cubs teammate Lee Smith, who's stagnating on the Hall ballot even though he ranks third on baseball's career list with 478 career saves. Then he put in a word for former Expos teammate Tim Raines, who was named on a mere 22.6 percent of baseball writers' ballots in the last election despite 808 stolen bases, a .385 career on-base percentage and seven straight All-Star appearances from 1981 through 1987.
"Smitty ought to be sitting up here in one of these chairs,'' Dawson said. "Tim Raines should be up here too.''
The first point worth noting here is that Dawson is the type who's going to have difficulty running a misdirection play based purely on sentiment or political correctness. He loves Tim Raines like a little brother, but he's not going to trumpet Raines' case if he feels Raines is undeserving or his induction would diminish the Hall one iota.
"We've been great friends, but if he feels like that, he really means it,'' Raines said Sunday. "Andre Dawson doesn't say anything he doesn't mean.''
That said, Dawson can't be blamed for feeling a bit conflicted. He got his start with the Expos when veteran scout Mel Didier discovered him at Florida A&M. He won a rookie of the year award with Montreal in 1977, and left a big piece of his heart -- and an awful lot of his knee cartilage -- on the unforgiving artificial surface at Olympic Stadium.
"He inspired me,'' Raines said. "You'd see him in a game and think there was nothing wrong with him, and then after games the guy couldn't even walk. He went through more ice than anybody ever went through in their entire lives. I'm surprised there's still ice around, as much ice as this guy put on his body.''
But Chicago was the place where Dawson revived his career and won an MVP award with the Cubs in 1987. It's the baseball home that he regards with the deepest sense of affection to this day.
"I never knew what it felt like to be loved by a city until I arrived in Chicago,'' Dawson told the crowd of 10,000. "You gave me new life in baseball. You were the wind beneath the Hawk's wings.''
The Cubs, forlorn though they may be, at least have a chance to alter their history. Montreal fans are left with memories of Youppi dancing on the dugout, air horns blaring from the stands and smoked meat sandwiches at the Olympic Stadium concession stands. It's tempting for the old Expos to feel wistful as they reach back for old memories, only because they have so little emotional stake in rooting for the Washington Nationals moving forward.
Dawson joined Gary Carter as the second former Expos mainstay to make it to Cooperstown, and Raines has a chance to make it three. On induction day, Raines took a break from his duties as manager of the Newark Bears in the independent Atlantic League to celebrate with Dawson, the man who helped him get his life back on track while he was recovering from cocaine dependency in the early 1990s.
"There's no way in hell I would have missed this,'' Raines said.
Raines is one of many from the old Montreal days who regard Dawson with a feeling that goes beyond mere admiration or fondness. It showed in the eyes of former Expos outfielder Warren Cromartie, who was also on hand Sunday, and Jim Fanning, the general manager and manager during Dawson's heyday.
"He's the easiest guy to manage you could ever know,'' Fanning said of Dawson. "He was a man's man, and a fantastic player. And he had charisma even though he didn't say much.''
For a man with a reputation as shy and quiet, Dawson had no trouble summoning the right words on his big day. He hit all the right notes from his introductory thank yous to his emotional farewell.
"I will never forget this day, and I will never forget those who made it possible,'' Dawson said. "I will never forget that it was my love for the game that kept me going when times got tough. I will never forget that if you love this game, it will love you back.''
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