Andre Dawson won with class. And he lost with class.
He played in obscurity for the Montreal Expos. He played for the last-place Chicago Cubs. He played on disintegrating knees.
But the Hawk soared above it all.
If Dawson was not working for the Marlins, he could be a diplomat or a hostage crisis negotiator. He occupies a cone of calm.
So it was no surprise that Dawson accepted his latest rejection by Baseball Hall of Fame voters with equanimity. No excuses. No self-pity. No pain, no gain.
“It’s a process you have to endure,” Dawson said from his home Monday. “They’re not going to put you in before they’re ready. You can’t get upset. You have to be patient.”
Rickey Henderson, sublime leadoff hitter and swift stealer of bases, was inducted quickly and emphatically, with 94.8 percent of the vote. We can’t wait to hear the Cooperstown speech of Henderson, who makes Yogi Berra’s malapropisms sound poetic.
Boston slugger Jim Rice also was chosen, squeaking in on his 15th and final try.
But Dawson fell just shy of enshrinement. He needed 75 percent of the 539 ballots cast, and he got 67 percent in his eighth year of eligibility.
How could Rice get in and Dawson be left out? While hardly an outrage, Rice’s induction accentuates Dawson’s injustice.
Compare their resumes:
In 16 seasons and 8,225 at-bats with the Red Sox, Rice hit 382 home runs and batted. .298. He won the American League MVP award in 1978 and finished in the top 10 six times. He won zero Gold Gloves and often filled the designated hitter role. He grounded into 315 double plays and stole 58 bases.
In 21 seasons and 9,927 at-bats, Dawson hit 438 home runs and batted .279. Remember, he played 11 years inside Olympic Stadium, which was not as cozy as Fenway Park. Dawson won the National League MVP in 1987, when the Cubs were last, and finished in the top 10 four times. He won 10 Gold Gloves, grounded into 217 double plays and stole 314 bases.
Dawson was among the best all-around players in history. The only criticism he heard was that he tended toward free swinging (his .323 on-base percentage wasn’t stellar).
But the numbers do not lie in baseball, and Dawson’s numbers are superior to those of Rice.
Rice, however, had time on his side in 2009. This was his last shot at the Hall of Fame, and, in effect, he cleared the Green Monster by a couple inches.
Dawson, 54, will have to wait.
In typical Dawson style, he wouldn’t compare himself to Rice.
“We were different types of players,” he said. “Jim was a premier slugger. I looked at myself as a five-tool player. I tried to perform in all aspects of the game.”
Dawson figured he would finish behind Henderson and Rice.
“Rickey is in the automatic category, but I have to sway about 45 more voters,” Dawson said. “My percentage only went up 1 percent, which surprises me, but that means I still have momentum. Next year presents a pretty good window. I don’t have to hurdle anybody.”
Mark McGwire regressed in the vote count in his third year on the ballot. His fall from grace could be sustained another 12 humbling years. If he is a test case for the steroid generation, then Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens can expect to be shunned once they become eligible in 2013.