If retired baseball great Andre Dawson’s paycheck had been based on his ability to self-promote, The Hawk would have starved to death long ago.
A strong, fast, powerful man who played his best seasons with the Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs, Dawson said little but made his words count. Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston revered Dawson in a way a younger brother worships the older brother who seemingly has it all. Once, when the Cubs’ team flight ripped through a lightning storm and was being rocked this way and that, Dunston was freaking out, convinced he was about to meet his maker. Dunston slammed the window shade shut. Dawson, seated next to him, quickly let him know that was no way to conquer his fear.
“Brother,” Dawson told the much chattier Dunston, “you can run, but you cannot hide.”
A couple of years later, a small gathering of baseball writers and Cubs were discussing the latest baseball gossip before a game at Wrigley Field, a story that had run that morning in a national publication. Openly gay former umpire Dave Pallone had said that there was a .300-hitting All-Star who was gay. Not part of the conversation, Dawson strolled by and offered, “Don’t look at me. I’m hitting .298.”
Too quiet to ever waste words on clichés, Dawson was worth interviewing after day games, even though that meant waiting as long as an hour for him to finish treatment on his aching knees, prematurely aged by the beating they took at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, which had one of the worst playing surfaces in the history of baseball.
Dawson suffered in silence, never introducing the condition of his knees into conversation, just as he now must be suffering in silence, waiting for a phone call from the Hall of Fame, informing him he has been elected. Dawson, a borderline candidate, gets my vote. The National League MVP in 1987 and the runner-up in 1981 and 1983, Dawson was an eight-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner.
I checked the box next to five other names: Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez and Jack Morris.
Blyleven hasn’t always gotten my vote, perhaps because I didn’t give enough value to the postseason dominance (5-1, 2.47 ERA) of the 287-game winner who ranks fifth all-time in strikeouts and ninth in shutouts. Larkin, a 12-time All-Star who had superior power, speed and ability to hit for average compared to fellow shortstop Alan Trammell, has a much better shot at gaining admission than Trammell, whose name was on just 17 percent of the ballots last year.
A player needs to be on 75 percent of the ballots to earn a plaque. In 2009, Dawson (67 percent) and Blyleven (63 percent) came close, former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire (22 percent) not close at all. In the pre-steroid era, McGwire’s 583 home runs would have made him a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer. Evidence strongly suggests steroids inflated his numbers, so when voting it’s only fair to pin-prick the balloon. A .217 hitter with five home runs in 42 career postseason games, McGwire doesn’t have enough going for him other than the inflated home run numbers.
Results of the voting will be released Jan. 6.