In 1977 I graduated high school and joined the US Navy. This was somewhere near the first third of my lifetime as a Chicago Cubs fan. Another thing that happened that year was the arrival of a young man named Andre Dawson in Montreal. He won the Rookie of the Year Award playing center field. He went on, while I was sailing around the Pacific, to win eight Gold Glove awards in a row and to be runner up for the League MVP in 1981 and 1983. None of this really mattered to me — I was a Cubs fan, and we had our own stars, and our own problems. Dawson spent all of his early years playing in Montreal, where the field was artificial turf. The amount of running, diving, and overall hustle required in center field took a toll. His knees were suffering, and he had to move to a team with real turf, or chance permanent damage, or early retirement.
In 1987, Dawson left Montreal and signed a crazy, “blank” contract with the Chicago Cubs. He just asked them to pay what they thought he was worth, and to take a chance on him. The timing was right, because their budget was tight, so they did, and the offer was $500 thousand. It was a big cut from what he’d made in Montreal, but it meant he could continue to play, and to do so on natural turf that would not be so hard on his knees. It was a chance to prove he was still able to play. He also slid over to right field with a bit less territory to cover.
That first year with the Cubs, Andre Dawson gave me my only reason to smile. The team came in dead last, but despite that, he hit 49 home runs to lead the league, drove in an awesome 137 runs, hit .287 and won another Gold Glove. He was named the National League MVP despite the team’s poor finish. In 1987 — as a Cubs fan — that was what I had.
Dawson won the Gold Glove again in 1988, as well as adding his fourth Silver Slugger from the previous season. He played for the Boston Red Sox, and Florida Marlins before retiring, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
But here’s what’s amazing. That first year with the Cubs, when he signed that blank contract that paid him $500,000, there were three incentives included. He was to receive another $250 thousand if he managed to make the All-Star Team, start in the All-Star Game, and — even less likely — if he was to be named League MVP. This is a guy with bad knees that no one knew what to expect from, playing on a last-place team. Dawson did all three.
Those of you out there laughing at people like Bartolo Colon adding incentives for winning the Cy Young Award to their contract might do well to remember Andre Dawson. A lot of people thought he was done, that his knees were shot and his career was over. Baseball is an amazing sport, played by amazing athletes. One of the best parts is that you can never really predict how things will turn out. Big respect to Andre who will be honored with the Scout’s Dream Award for Outstanding Achievement in Baseball History, which will be presented by another Hall of Famer, Cubs pitcher Fergie Jenkins.
Ryne Sandberg, another Hall of Famer who played with Dawson, said, “There isn’t a player in baseball history who worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson. He’s the best I’ve ever seen. I watched him win an MVP for a last-place team in 1987, and it was the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever seen in baseball.” Mr. Sandberg might well be the best many have ever seen himself, but that’s some serious praise.
I’ve watched a lot of baseball and I don’t know that it was the most amazing thing that I have ever seen, but man was it fun. So this is a thank you to a great ball player, Andre Dawson, for giving me that reason I look for every year to smile when I think of the Chicago Cubs. Congratulations on your award. It is well earned.