Posted on: January 21, 2009 9:40 pm
Edited on: January 21, 2009 9:43 pm

The Hawk Deserves Better Perch


Two former Major League greats answered the call to the Hall of Fame Monday, Jan. 12, when the votes of the Baseball Writers' Association of America were revealed. 

This year's class will include Rickey Henderson, the best leadoff hitter and base stealer of all-time, and Jim Rice, the former Boston Red Sox slugger of the 1980s. 

Henderson is certainly a shoe-in candidate – Rickey was pretty darn good, just ask Rickey. Rice's candidacy, on the other hand, has been up for debate, considering he finally got his pass on his 15th and final try. 

One omission that has been ongoing for eight years continues to perplex me, however. No, not Bert Blyleven, though the former Minnesota Twins pitcher who will likely make another stop in Spencer with the Twins caravan this week also leaves anyone who paid attention scratching his head. 

The man known as 'The Hawk,' Andre Dawson, whose career spanned two decades, primarily with the Montreal Expos and the Chicago Cubs, is another exclusion that leaves one with more questions than answers. 

What can we expect, though, this is the same group that saw 28 of its members fail to vote for Henderson, who may very well be one of baseball's top 10 players of all time. 

This is also the same group that saw eight of its members leave Cal Ripken, Jr. off their ballots in 2007. Cal freakin' Ripken. 

This is also the same group that has never voted in anyone unanimously. Not even Babe Ruth. Not even Willie Mays. Not even Hank Aaron. Not even Joe DiMaggio. You get the idea. 

Simply behind the strength of his stats, Dawson should have been in long ago. 

He finished his career with 2,774 hits, a .279 average, 438 home runs (32nd all time), 1,591 RBI (24th all time) and 314 stolen bases.

He's an eight-time Gold Glove winner. He's an eight-time All-Star. He's a former Rookie of the Year. He's a former MVP – the only player ever to win the award for a last-place team. 

None of his final career totals stand as that one magical number (3,000 hits, 500 home runs) which would grant an automatic pass, but Dawson has put up a collection of overall numbers on par with anybody. 

He's one of one three players in the history of the game to hit 400 home runs and steal 300 bases. The other two? A couple guys named Bonds and Mays. Not bad company. 

Why isn't Dawson already occupying a seat in the Hall? Ask some critics and they'll tell you his career .323 on base percentage isn't good enough despite the fact that 25 percent of the people currently in the Hall of Fame produced a lower total. 

So, one stat is enough to keep him out against a handful of others that say he shouldn't even be a question?

The argument for Dawson doesn't even need to be about stats, which makes him even more appealing. 

Dawson was a man thoroughly respected by his peers, so much so that Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg and Tony Perez both lobbied for Dawson's candidacy. 

"We all respect the way he played and the way he played even when he wasn't 100 percent," Perez has said of Dawson, who had multiple knee surgeries largely due to years of playing on the artificial turf at Olympic Stadium. "Talk to any player who saw him play or played with him or against him, and they don't understand why he isn't in the Hall of Fame."

Dawson wasn't all about the money either, like so many are. By now, the story of how he came to Chicago is legend. Prior to the 1987 season, Dawson gave Cubs GM Dallas Green a fill-in-the-blank contract, which he signed for $500,000 – pennies compared to what a man of his talent could have made in today's open market. 

Above all, however, Dawson was the epitome of an all-around baseball player. 

He wasn't just a slugger, like Rice, who now walks through the Hall doors ahead of him. And, he wasn't just a defensive gem. He was both. 

It's a wonder that a man with his combination of offensive and defensive skills hasn't been recognized as one of the best, when some of his peers have been elected on the strength of their defensive ability alone. 

Over the next few years, and maybe for the next couple decades, the Hall of Fame will center around the old and tired "did he or didn't he" dialogue when it comes to the sluggers of the steroid era. 

It's already begun with Mark McGwire being on the ballot the past two seasons. It will continue as Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens become eligible over the next four years. 

But, instead of debating over whether the alleged users, whose careers will be forever tainted, will ever be enshrined in Cooperstown, why not make a statement and open the doors for a man who played the game the right way?

"No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson," Sandberg said of Dawson during his own induction ceremony. "He's the best I've ever seen."

Why not open the doors for a man who did plenty of talking on the field, but never opened his mouth to do so? Why not open the doors for a man who wouldn't make a father eat his words for telling his son, "Watch him. Play like him. Be just like that guy."

Dawson played the game with class, dignity and respect; he played the game as well as anyone for an entire decade. Andre Dawson belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Shame on the Baseball Writers' Association for even debating over a player like Dawson. 

Shame on the baseball writers for making 'The Hawk' wait even one more year.  


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