COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Andre Dawson stared almost in awe as he watched a brief video biography of his playing career, brushing away tears as familiar faces spoke in admiration of the intense man most still call “Hawk.”
“When I think back, there are so many things that flash through my mind,” Dawson said. “How did I ever pull it off? I can only say, ‘Wow!’ ”
Despite 12 knee surgeries, Dawson was an All-Star eight times and managed to become just one of three Major League players to hit 400 homers and steal more than 300 bases (Willie Mays and Barry Bonds are the others). For that and so much more, Dawson will be inducted today into the Baseball Hall of Fame, part of a class that includes former manager Whitey Herzog, umpire Doug Harvey, broadcaster Jon Miller and sports writer Bill Madden.
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The ceremony also will honor a musician for the first time. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Fogerty will sing his classic song “Centerfield”, which he wrote 25 years ago and has been played at the start of induction today for more than a decade.
Now 56, Dawson is the 203rd player elected to the Hall of Fame, making it on the ninth try.
Many wondered why it took so long.
An 11th-round draft pick by the Montreal Expos in 1975, Dawson quickly made it to the big club in September 1976. The following year, Dawson was tabbed by manager Dick Williams as the club’s starting center fielder and immediately excelled in his new role, hitting 19 homers, driving in 65 runs and stealing 21 bases to capture National League Rookie of the Year honors.
In 1981, Dawson helped lead Montreal to the NL playoffs for the first time and batted .300 in a five-game victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in the division series. Dawson’s best chance at making the World Series was then halted by the Dodgers, who took the NLCS in five games.
In just over a decade playing center field on the punishing artificial turf in old Olympic Stadium, Dawson’s knees took a beating. They needed to be drained regularly because of swelling, and he decided it was time for a change when he was asked to take a pay cut.
“I was a free agent and I didn’t really know what was going to happen,” Dawson said. “The decision that my agent and I made was there really isn’t going to be offers from teams and we’re just going to have to make an offer that won’t be turned down. We felt the only way a team would listen was if we just gave them a contract and let them fill in the blanks.”
Chicago Cubs general manager Dallas Green was willing to do that and ended up pulling off one of the great deals in modern baseball. When Dawson offered him a blank one-year deal, Green filled in the numbers: $500,000 for the season, an extra $150,000 if he stayed off the disabled list before the All-Star break and another $50,000 for making the All-Star team.
That was even less than Montreal had offered, but Dawson felt it was “more about pride and principle” and accepted. He responded by hitting 49 home runs, driving in 137 runs and winning a Gold Glove at his new position — right field on the soft natural grass of Wrigley Field.
Dawson beat Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith for MVP honors that year to become the first member of a last-place team to win the award and also led the NL in total bases with a career-high 353.
On his Hall of Fame plaque Dawson will be wearing an Expos cap after initially hoping it would be a Cubs hat. He understands now.
“Montreal was a platform, but Chicago probably catapulted me to that status to be able to play another six years and play on a natural playing surface,” said Dawson, who had 438 homers, 2,774 hits, 1,591 RBI and 314 stolen bases in his career. “That kind of rejuvenated my career. It got me to the point where the numbers maybe were good enough to get in.”
Dawson spent another five productive seasons with the Cubs, helping them to the NL East title in 1989. He was also known for a strong throwing arm, notching 10 or more assists a season 16 times, including a high of 17 in 1978 and 1979, and finishing his 21-year career with 157.
“I didn’t want offense to overshadow defense,” said Dawson, whose was born in Miami and got his nickname at age 9 from an uncle who let him work out with a senior men’s team and marveled at the aggressive way he approached the game.
“Eight Gold Gloves are what stand out more so for me. I always felt that you could win a ballgame with a play late in the game or early in the game just the same way you could win a game in the ninth inning with a key hit.”
Dawson then played two years for the Boston Red Sox, winning the 1994 Hutch Award for baseball spirit and competitive drive, before finishing his career with a two-year stint on the Florida Marlins.
Dawson will be inducted with a manager he admired from afar. Just the 19th Major League skipper to make the Hall of Fame, Herzog was elected in December by the Veterans Committee.
Born in New Athens, Ill., a town of about 1,400, Herzog gravitated toward baseball as a youngster — “It wasn’t big enough for a football team, there were only 49 boys in high school,” he said — and made his Major League debut as a player in 1956 with the Washington Senators.
In eight seasons as a first baseman and outfielder, Herzog batted .254 with 25 homers, 172 RBI, 213 runs, 60 doubles, 20 triples and 13 stolen bases in 634 games with Washington, Baltimore, Kansas City and Detroit.
After his playing career ended in 1963, Herzog held just about every job imaginable in baseball — player, scout, general manager, coach, farm system director.
It was as a manager that Herzog made his lasting mark. He did it for 18 seasons, 11 with the St. Louis Cardinals after stints in Texas, California and Kansas City. He guided the Royals to three consecutive playoff appearances in the 1970s and took the Cardinals to the 1982 World Series title — just two years after he was hired. The Cardinals also made World Series appearances in 1985 and 1987 under Herzog, who finished his managing career in 1990 with a record of 1,279-1,123, a .532 winning percentage.
Managing in an era with several artificial turf fields and distant fences, Herzog’s teams played the game in a classic manner: “Whiteyball” won games with pitching, speed, and defense — not home runs.
“With the 1985 (Cardinals) team, we stole something like 310 bases and were thrown out about 67 times,” Herzog said. “We had to steal third because they played us so shallow with two outs because we couldn’t hit home runs. Jack Clark was the only guy I had that could hit a homer. I thought if I could keep my team from allowing over 100 home runs and we could hit 60 that we’d have a chance to win.
“In 1976, ’77 and ’78 in Kansas City, we would start off the season trying to break Roger Maris’ record (of 61 homers in a season) — as a team,” Herzog said with a sly smile. “Invariably, although we didn’t hit many home runs, we’d always finish in the top three in runs scored. We could talk a walk into a triple. We picked up them runs early, and that’s how we won.”
If Herzog had a mentor, it was Casey Stengel, the Hall of Fame manager for the Yankees and Mets.
“Probably Casey was the guy I looked up to the most,” Herzog said. “I went to rookie camp in 1954 for the Yankees and he spent an awful lot of time with me. He taught me an awful lot about fundamentals, stuff that I’d never heard before.”That stuff sometimes took a while to decipher.
“A lot of times it took you a day and a half to figure out what the hell he was talking about,” Herzog said.Not always.
“He told me to hire the most capable people you can hire and get the job done because if you don’t die on the job or you don’t own the club, you’re going to get fired anyway, so don’t worry about it,” Herzog said. “In the old days in baseball, the coaches all hired their buddies. There wasn’t as much teaching at the big-league level because everybody played five years in the minors before they got to the big leagues. It was different.”