I haven’t heard too many people refer to Andre Dawson as “former Red Sox outfielder Andre Dawson” this past weekend, and for good reason. Over two seasons in Boston, he only played in 196 games, spent only 20 of them in right field, and hit only 20 home runs to go with a .297 on base percentage. Yes, his first home run with the Sox was number 400 (when 400 home runs still meant something), and he was a good guy in the clubhouse — you can’t spin around without finding someone who notes what a great guy he was.
Rightfully so, he’s remembered for his time in Montreal and Chicago. He was a dynamic outfielder, he was fast, he hit for power, he was a leader and he took a bullet financially during the collusion era, agreeing to play for the Cubs for minimum wage so he could escape the concrete playing surface of Montreal’s Stade Olymique. His supporters will point to his gold gloves, his 438 home runs, his 314 stolen bases and his 12 knee surgeries as proof of his worthiness to the Hall. His detractors will call attention to his lifetime .323 on base percentage and his low walk totals as not being good enough for induction. I fall in with the former group, myself.
But, for me, I’m not going to his numbers or his power arm in right field when I reach into my own memory banks. He spent the best part of his career at a time when I didn’t have much contact with the National League outside of box scores, books and baseball cards. He came to the Red Sox after six great years with the Cubs, where he hit home runs no. 225 through 399. It was his favorite stretch of his career.
Boston was rough on Dawson. His knees were pretty much gone at this point, leaving him stuck at DH and in and out of the lineup. I can remember, more than once, watching as Dawson would hit an early-inning double and then immediately be lifted for a pinch-runner. He could still hit better than the alternatives available (Bob Zupcic? Carlos Quintana?), but not like he used to.
I remember feeling bad for him at times, watching him try to soldier on despite the fact that he wasn’t the same player that earned the Hall of Fame reputation, at least physically. But I liked him quite a bit. I watched how he interacted with guys like Mike Greenwell and Mo Vaughn in the dugout. I rooted for him every time he stiffly strode to the batter’s box, and cheered when he’d get on base.
I knew I was watching a great at the end of the line, playing for a team that wasn’t likely to make the playoffs. He couldn’t play every day at that point, and his run with the Sox ended with the 1994 strike. It couldn’t have been the route he envisioned when he signed with Boston in the winter of 1992.
But he played on, never seeming to complain outwardly, and that stuck with me. It wasn’t a great run, but I was glad I got to see as much of Dawson as I did, at a pivotal time for me as a baseball fan. I was 11 years old, just starting to move from casual to obsessed in fandom, and I spent that summer watching a classy hitter and a true professional. The Hawk who could gun down runners at the plate on a line was a bedtime story, but the Hawk who gritted his teeth through bad knees on a bad team was my reality.
Worthy or unworthy stats aside, I’m glad that player was inducted into the Hall of Fame yesterday.