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Saluting Andre Dawson

By George Ofman

Consider how often we rail against athletes. Not the good guys - the bad guys. Albert Belle and Milton Bradley quickly come to mind. So do Dave Kingman and Ben Wallace. There are others.

Then there are the polar opposites, men like Andre Dawson, a true gentleman who represents his sport the way all athletes should. Too bad guys like Dawson are few and far between.

Dawson all but stands alone in my world. He was a giant of a man when it came to respect and dignity.

Imagine him and his agent coming to spring training camp in 1987 willing to play for whatever the Cubs could pay. Dawson wanted out of Montreal where his knees had become brittle on the artificial turf. Here was a blank check to then general manager Dallas Green. Just fill in the number and Dawson is yours. The figure was $500,000.

It should have been $5 million the way Dawson performed: 49 homers, 137 RBI and adulation the likes of which I had never experienced.

Dawson became an instant hero and the fans in the right field bleachers saluted him by bowing. Such unrequited reverence hadn't been seen around these parts. It was spiriting to witness.

I had the great fortune of covering Dawson during his six years with the Cubs. His very presence commanded respect, yet his humble nature melted any trepidations.

Athletes have never intimated me, though I must admit being around Dawson made me feel as if I had to tread lightly because this was no ordinary athlete. The Hawk was different. He was awe-inspiring on and off the field.

And the season he had after signing that blank check is something I'll never forget. The fact that he was named Most Valuable Player for a last-place team was a paradox, but baseball writers then had no choice.

This was the best of the best.

Dawson gave so much when, at times, he had so little to give. His knees were like hubcaps flying off wheels.

Yet he played on, sometime needing as much as an hour after the game just to ice those gimpy knees. He never complained. He just played. And the fans loved him for his devotion to the game. That and some of monsters homers he hit out of Wrigley Field.

Yes, Dawson let his guard down one day when he was hit in the face by a pitch from the late Eric Show. Dawson got up, stormed the mound and attacked Show. And all I could think of was, good for you, Hawk.

The Hall of Fame was meant for players like Dawson, even if it took him nine tries to get in.

And it's meant for guys such as Greg Maddux and Jim Thome, two hulking figures of the game who were seemingly molded in Dawson's image. So is Mark Buehrle, who might not be a Hall of Famer but is certainly one of the classiest acts in town.

Dawson will attend the Cubs Convention next weekend. Let the bowing will begin anew.

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George Ofman is now with WGN radio after a 17-year run with The Score. He also blogs for ChicagoNow under the banner That's All She Wrote. Comments welcome.

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COMMENTS:

1. From Joel Reese:

A typically great write-up by Mr. Ofman about Hawk Dawson, but I think there's one black mark on his Cubs career that deserves mention, as well.

On the plus side, Dawson was everything George writes - the way he carried himself was almost . . . regal. I know that's a strange word, but it fits him. There was something different about him that you rarely see in athletes from any era. My favorite memory of him from that year wasn't any of the homers, or anything like that. What I remember was Dawson throwing out some pitcher AT FIRST BASE on a hard single right to him. I don't think I've seen that before or since.

That said, I don't think you can write about his Cubs career without touching on the '89 playoffs: Dawson just about killed the Cubs, going 2-for-19. Okay, sometimes players have a bad streak. Fair enough. But worse, Dawson had criticized Mark Grace, essentially saying the Cubs had traded the wrong guy when they got rid of Palmeiro instead of Grace. Meanwhile, Grace batted .647 in the playoffs - Grace vs. Will Clark was like Bird vs. Dominique in the '88 playoffs.

By Game 4, the Giants were pitching around Grace to get to Dawson, and the Cubs didn't have the huevos to sit Hawk. And, if I remember correctly, Hawk's pride wouldn't let him realize what everyone else could see: He was murdering the team, and should have been on the bench.

I'm not a hater, don't get me wrong. I loved Dawson, and his summer of '87 was unforgettable - I believe he hit a homer in his last at-bat of the season. But the playoffs of '89 definitely left a slightly sour taste in my mouth.

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Posted on Nov 26, 2021