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If You Love this Game
An MVP's Life in Baseball
By Andre Dawson, Alan Maimon
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2012 Andre Dawson with Alan Maimon
All rights reserved.
There came a day every January that started with anticipation and ended with disappointment, beginning with the year my name first appeared on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 2002. In my first year of eligibility, 45 percent of the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America put a check next to my name, signifying their belief that I deserved a place in Cooperstown. That was a far cry from the 75 percent needed to get in. Still, it was an indication that I was a serious candidate. I hadn't really expected to get enough votes that first year. In fact, I was fishing off Key Largo on the day of the announcement. In the years that followed, my hopes grew as I gradually climbed closer to the magic number of votes.
I felt like 2010 was a window of opportunity for me. All the former greats who had gotten more votes than me in previous years, guys like Jim Rice and my former Cubs teammate Rich "Goose" Gossage, had deservedly made it into the Hall. Rice earned his spot in his 15th and final year of eligibility. If you think of it as waiting in line for your turn, I guess you could say there was no one left standing in front of me.
Truthfully, the whole thing was starting to wear on me a little, probably because I had absolutely no control over it. When I hung up my cleats at the end of the 1996 season, I did so having accomplished just about everything I wanted to in the game. I say "just about" because I never did get to play in a World Series in my 21-year career. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but think, "Did I really do enough to earn my place alongside the best to ever play the game?" My advocates spoke of how I played through injuries and was among a select group of players with career totals that included 400 home runs and 300 stolen bases. My detractors pointed out that my batting average and on-base percentage didn't stack up against a lot of the all-time greats. Amid all the talk, I vowed to remain proud of my accomplishments regardless of whether or not I entered the Hall of Fame. At the same time, I was hopeful good things would happen in my ninth year of eligibility in 2010.
When the day of the announcement rolled around, I woke up early at 6:30 AM, to be exact. I wanted to get in a workout, and then I planned to do something I knew would put the day in its proper perspective.
Later that morning, I made the 15-minute drive from my South Miami home to Dade South Memorial Park cemetery. I felt compelled to visit the gravesites of my mother and grandmother, without whose support I never would have realized my dreams of playing a single inning in the major leagues, let alone being enshrined in Cooperstown. My grandmother, Eunice Taylor, died in 1987 after a long bout with Alzheimer's disease. Her passing came during a time of great transition for me. I dedicated the following season, my first in Chicago, to the woman I called "Mamma," and it turned out to be the best of my career. My mom, Mattie, passed away in 2006. She was only 15 years old when I was born in 1954. As a single mother, she worked hard to support my siblings and me and was always a huge supporter of everything I did.
I knelt and thanked these very special women for their unconditional love, for their efforts in raising me, and most importantly, for guiding me along the right path in life. Before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face.
When I got back home, my wife, Vanessa, was waiting on me. "Well, hopefully this is the day," I said. Vanessa had stood by me not only on this day every year but on all other days since we married in 1978. And, believe me, that wasn't always easy for her. Of the many things for which I'm grateful, the presence of strong women in my life is near the top of the list.
Vanessa and I ordered sandwiches from a favorite delicatessen called Roasters 'N Toasters and anxiously hung around the house as the morning turned to afternoon. The official Hall of Fame announcement in New York was at 2:00 PM, and I assumed I'd get a call ahead of time if there was good news to be shared. Although, to be honest, I didn't know exactly how the process worked because my phone had never rung on that day before.
It got to be 1:00 PM and still there was no call — unless you count the one from a family friend who had the misfortune of phoning my wife during our state of high alert. "Can I call you back?" Vanessa nicely asked her. "We're in the middle of something."
It got to be 1:20 — still nothing. "Well, I guess it's not going to happen again this year," I said with resignation in my voice. I was tired from my workout and had experienced a lot of emotion at the cemetery, so I decided to lie down in my home office and close my eyes. I asked Vanessa to come get me a few minutes before 2:00 PM, so I could turn on the television and see how the voting went.
A few minutes later, the phone rang.
I shot up into a sitting position. Before picking up the receiver, I glanced at the caller ID and saw it was a call from the New York City area code. A good sign to be sure. At that moment, Vanessa came through the door. Next thing I knew, the president of the Baseball Writers Association of America was congratulating me on my election to the Hall of Fame. I flashed my wife a thumbs-up. She put her hands on her face and started to cry. My daughter, Amber, heard what was going on, and she ran in the room. When she realized what was happening, she got choked up, too.
It turned out I got close to 78 percent of the vote, just enough to make it to Cooperstown. I was going into the Hall along with manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey, both of whom were selected by the Veterans Committee.
I hardly had time to process it all. Following the call, everything came at me quickly. There was a full schedule for the rest of the day and the next day. First I was supposed to go to Dolphin Stadium, soon to be renamed Sun Life Stadium, for a local press conference. Then I had to catch a flight to New York for a national press conference the next morning. Before we left the house, Commissioner Bud Selig called to offer his congratulations.
We had packed some bags in anticipation of this happy moment. The Florida Marlins, for whom I work as a special assistant, had also made preparations, sending a limo in case I got the call. But it turned out they were playing it safe. The driver had instructions to park down the street from my house. There was no use sitting right out front if the phone didn't ring. We didn't know about that limo, however, so my wife called another car service to take us to the ballpark. It arrived a short time later and off we went to the stadium. On the way out of the neighborhood, we passed the other limo down the street. I should have put two and two together, but I didn't. "Guess I'm not the only one celebrating something today," I thought as we headed toward the freeway.
It seemed like I was on the phone for the entire 40-minute drive from my house to the ballpark. We decided that my wife and daughter would make the trip to New York with me. My son, Darius, had a college exam the following day, so he wasn't able to go with us. That was hard on him, but we had always insisted he put his academics first. He realized the press conferences were just a prelude to the main event — the induction ceremony in July.
After meeting with reporters at the Marlins' stadium, I did some interviews on the way to the airport. By the time I got there, I had about 50 voicemail messages and just as many text messages. One was from Al Oliver, a good friend and former teammate in Montreal. Al, who was a tremendous player in his own right, had been pulling hard for me to get in the Hall. In his message, he asked a rhetorical question: "Was it worth the wait?"
When we arrived in New York, I went down to the bar at the Waldorf Astoria and met with some Hall of Fame representatives to go over the details of the next day and proceeded to join them for dinner. As if the day hadn't been eventful enough, I experienced an allergic reaction to something I ate. I didn't let on that anything was wrong, though. I had played through a lot of pain in my career, and I was going to make it through dinner no matter what shade of green I turned.
Back in my room later that night, the realization started to sink in. I was going to be a member of the Hall of Fame. Was I disappointed that I didn't get in on the first ballot, or the eighth ballot, for that matter? Not at all. I embraced the idea that it's the final destination that matters most, not how long it takes to get there. And finally, I had become a Hall of Famer.
* * *
I had visited Cooperstown a few times before. Once as a member of the Cubs, I was there for the Hall of Fame Game that used to be played annually. On another trip, my kids came along, and we toured the Hall of Fame museum. It was amazing: the plaque gallery, the artifacts, and the various exhibits on the history of the game.
Prior to my own big day, the only time I had attended an induction ceremony was in 2005 when my former Cubs teammate Ryne Sandberg was enshrined. To my surprise, Ryno singled me out in his speech. He said, "No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more, or did it better than Andre Dawson. He's the best I've ever seen." That was a huge endorsement from a guy I considered the best of the best. For six years, he witnessed firsthand what I had to go through in dealing with chronic knee problems. He saw the treatments I got before and after games. Ryno has always been a man of few words, so the things he said about me in Cooperstown that day meant a lot. In interviews, Ryno said he felt the monster power numbers that other players put up in the steroid era had made my numbers look less impressive and lost me votes.
I started working on my speech almost the moment I came back from the press conference in New York. I tried to prepare myself for that Sunday in July when I would take the stage and address the baseball community. I wanted to talk about the state of the game, reach out to the youth, and have a little fun at the same time. Barry Rozner, a Chicago-area journalist, helped me organize the speech. My daughter, Amber, helped me fine-tune my thoughts.
The toughest part by far was going to be acknowledging my mom and grandmother. I've always been an emotional person, and I struggled with whether I would be able to keep my composure when I honored them. I decided to wait to do that until the end of the speech. That way, if I couldn't get through it, at least I'd be almost finished. Every time I practiced the speech, I broke down when I got to that portion.
A big question prior to induction day was whether I'd enter the Hall as an Expo or a Cub. I had a clear opinion on the matter — my preference was to go in as a member of the Chicago Cubs, the team I played for from 1987 to 1992. I won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in my first year with the Cubs, but more importantly, I felt warmly embraced by Cubs fans and the city of Chicago. While I appreciated the fact that I got my start with the Expos and played more than 10 years in Montreal, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't unhappy about the way things ended there.
When I got to the big leagues, I wanted to be one of those special players who spent his entire career with one organization. I gave a lot to the Expos and their fans, including a Rookie of the Year award, three All-Star appearances, and six Gold Gloves. But in the end, I felt I became a victim of team executives who were far more calculating and business-minded than me. This happened during the collusion era in baseball when major league teams had an unspoken, not to mention illegal, agreement to freeze out free agents from earning anywhere close to what they deserved. For me, that would have meant taking a pay cut to stay in Montreal. Well, with my knee problems becoming increasingly worse on the hard artificial surface of Olympic Stadium, the Expos' decision to do me that way let me know it was time to go.
The events that led me to Chicago were unorthodox to say the least: a blank contract, a game of cat and mouse, and ultimately a new home on a grass field. In retrospect, if I had re-upped in Montreal and continued playing on the turf there, my career might have ended prematurely without any chance of being elected to the Hall of Fame. As it turned out, I finished my career with 438 home runs and nearly 2,800 hits. I credited my years in Chicago as pivotal, and that's why I wanted to be enshrined in Cooperstown as a Cub.
The personalized license plates on my cars show I still identify myself with both teams. One says "HAWK8," a combination of my nickname and the uniform number I wore in Chicago (and Florida in the final years of my career). The other has "HAWK10," a tribute to the jersey number I wore in Montreal and in Boston for a brief time. I had gotten over my grudge against the Expos, but given the choice, I wanted to enter Cooperstown as a Cub.
But the Hall of Fame officials wanted me to reconsider and go in as an Expo. They said they were trying to consider the history of the game. Only one other player, my former teammate Gary Carter in 2003, had entered the Hall in a Montreal uniform. They felt strongly I should go in as a member of the team for whom I played the longest. I agreed to do it.
* * *
I was excited when the Hall of Fame weekend finally came. My family arrived in Cooperstown on Thursday and checked into a suite at the Otesaga Resort Hotel. It had a breathtaking lake view that I would have liked to enjoy more, but we spent hardly any time in the room. Every minute of the next few days featured some kind of event.
The first person I encountered when I went for lunch in the hotel restaurant was Hank Aaron. I had talked with Hank the previous year at a function in West Palm Beach for the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program, and it was great seeing him again. Within minutes of that encounter, I crossed paths with another of the game's all-time greats, not to mention one of my idols — Willie Mays. I didn't know Willie had just undergone eye surgery. I went over and started talking to him without telling him who I was. After about a minute, he pleasantly asked, "Who am I talking to?" I introduced myself, and he grabbed my arm and congratulated me on my selection to the Hall. I asked him if he wouldn't mind posing for a photo with my family and me, to which he replied, "You don't have to ask me that, son!"
It was thrilling to see so many legends in one place at one time.
The next day I talked a little to Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, a contemporary of mine, about the weekend. As we were chatting, the great Frank Robinson walked up beside us. "You're not a Hall of Famer yet!" he said with a big smile as he put his arms around me. When I saw Frank in the hotel elevator the next day, he said, "You're getting closer!" I guess that's the nearest thing there is to hazing of new Hall of Fame inductees.
The only negative thing about induction weekend was I didn't get to spend a lot of time with family and friends who came to support me. A lot of relatives made the trip from Miami, including my uncles, who were my male role models as a kid. And a lot of former teammates were on hand, including two of the players I was closest with in Montreal — Tim Raines and Warren Cromartie. Jeff Kay, a guy I played rookie ball with in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, in 1975 also showed up. The funny thing was that he hadn't aged a year since I last saw him.
One of the highlights of the weekend was a party the Cubs put on for me, an event where I got to spend a little quality time with people who didn't get the opportunity to go to the private reception that was held earlier. Reggie Jackson and some other Hall of Famers stopped by the event, which was very exciting for my family and friends.
Shawon Dunston, a great friend from my years with the Cubs, was a no-show. Shawon has always been excitable, and boy, was he excited the day he called to congratulate me on my selection. Unfortunately, he let me know a couple days before the ceremony that he wasn't going to be able to make it. Shawon had developed a fear of flying, and the weather forecast for the weekend looked bad. He was in tears when he told me. He said, "Hawk, my daughters are laughing at me for not wanting to fly. I don't know what to do." I said, "Shawon, listen, it's okay. Don't worry about it." He told me he loved me, and I told him to be sure to watch the ceremony because I had something special for him.
Excerpted from If You Love this Game by Andre Dawson, Alan Maimon. Copyright © 2012 Andre Dawson with Alan Maimon. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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