Monday, July 26, 2010

Class of 2010

     Andre Dawson was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday, and in accepting this honor of a lifetime he showed the same dignity, humility, maturity, and gratitude that were constants throughout his 21-year playing career. You can boil it all down to one word: class.
     Dawson broke in with the Montreal Expos as the prototypical five-tool player who could hit for average, hit for power, and run, field, and throw with the best of them. A succession of knee injuries eventually compromised his speed, but nothing ever compromised his furious desire to succeed. Dawson was the National League's Rookie of the Year for Montreal in 1977 and Most Valuable Player for the Cubs in 1987. He was an eight-time All-Star, won eight Gold Gloves, and underwent 12 knee surgeries. “No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more, or did it better than Andre Dawson,” said teammate Ryne Sandberg, himself a Hall of Famer. “He's the best I've ever seen.”
     Dawson was a true professional who, as they say, played the game the right way. He played hurt, always hustled, never showed anyone up. He didn't boast when he was going good and he didn't make excuses when he was going bad.
     There has been much discussion of the fact that Dawson's Hall of Fame plaque depicts him in a Montreal cap, and Dawson himself expressed some disappointment at not being portrayed in a Cubs cap. “I don't feel a sense of loyalty to either one of those organizations,” said Dawson. “I left both organizations on bitter terms. My love affair was with the Chicago Cub fans. That's why I would prefer to put a Cubs cap on, to represent those fans.”
     A nice sentiment, to be sure, but after all Dawson played 11 years for Montreal and only six for the Cubs, so the decision was pretty clear-cut to Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson. It also in no way diminishes Dawson's achievements as a Cub or the esteem in which he is held by Cub fans. If it is true--as has been reported--that the Cubs have decided not to retire Dawson's uniform number because of the Expos' cap on his plaque, they should be ashamed of themselves. Either Dawson deserves the honor or he doesn't, but it's hard to see how a picture on a plaque would tilt that equation either way.
     If the Cubs really are pondering whether to retire Dawson's number, they might want to think too about Gabby Hartnett, a Hall of Famer who played 19 years for the Cubs--during which time they won four pennants, one with Hartnett as National League MVP and another with him as player/manager. He was by consensus the greatest catcher in N.L. history prior to 1950.

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