January 11, 2010

The Hawk and Big Mac

It's hard to think baseball in the middle of January, but over the past few days there's been two big news items to come from America's Game.  It might be interesting to compare the individuals involved, Andre Dawson and Mark McGwire.

Andre "The Hawk" Dawson started his major league career in 1976 as an outfielder for the Montreal Expos.  He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 1977, and eight Gold Gloves for his defense (1980-1985, 1987-1988).  He was what they called a "five-tool player," able to hit for average and power, had good speed, a cannon arm and played excellent defense in the field. 

A testament to his offensive abilities is that he became only the third member of one of the most exclusive clubs in baseball, the 300-300 club, in 1991.  At the time, only Willie Mays and Bobby Bonds had reached those numbers in home runs and steals (there are now six players with those numbers). 

In 1987, Dawson won the NL MVP award, hitting 49 homers and driving in 137 runs.  More amazing is that he won the award playing for a last place team, the 76-85 Chicago Cubs.  He joined the Cubs in 1986, practically begging the team to give him a contract.  This was the age of collusion, when the Major League teams had decided that they wouldn't sign other teams' free agents, no matter what.  Dawson gave the Cubs a standard contract with his signature on it, but with the amount he was to be paid left blank.  He then told the club to fill in the amount they were willing to pay.  They offered him $500000 plus incentives worth an additional $750000 if he made the All-Star team, started in the All-Star game, or won the MVP.  These numbers were well below what he should have been offered, but he still took it.

He had good reason to leave Montreal for Chicago: the field.  The astroturf in Montreal's Olympic Stadium was easily the hardest in the Majors, being barely more than a plastic grass carpet laid directly on concrete.  Over the 10 years he played there, his knees degenerated into putty from all the pounding they took.  Much of his speed was lost after 1983, when he stole 25 bases.  He never stole close to 20 again.  He was always the first to the ballpark, and the last to leave, simply because he needed the extra time to get therapy on his knees just so he could play.  While they didn't shorten his career, they certainly made it much more painful.  He's actually had one of his knees replaced twice since his retirement, and the other will be replaced sometime soon, as it has no cartilage remaining.

He retired in 1996.  In 2005, Ryne Sandburg, the Cubs' great second baseman, was inducted into the Hall of Fame.  During his induction speech, Sandburg pushed for Dawson's enshrinement, saying "No player in baseball history 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 [with the Cubs], and it was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen in baseball. He did it the right way, the natural way, and he did it in the field and on the bases and in every way, and I hope he will stand up here someday."

This past weekend, Andre Dawson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Mark "Big Mac" McGwire, hit 70 home runs in 1998, breaking the single season record previously held by Roger Maris.  He hit 583 for his career.  Today, he came out and admitted that he used cheated by steroids during his career, including that 1998 season. 

Two more different people would be difficult to find.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 10:22 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
Post contains 640 words, total size 4 kb.

1 It must be a difficult temptation to resist, given how many athletes have done it.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at January 12, 2010 12:58 AM (+rSRq)

2 Already had disdain for Eireboy, but being strictly an AL fan I was illuminated by your comments on Mr Dawson.  But don't get me started on Chicago - the Tribe could have used him....

Posted by: The Old Man at January 14, 2010 11:57 AM (TcNy+)

3 He could have helped ANYbody at that time, Old Man!  That's what made the collusion so ridiculously obvious.

Posted by: Wonderduck at January 14, 2010 06:12 PM (Cpxcy)

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