Andre Dawson and the Hall, A Perspective
So, Andre Dawson is in the Hall of Fame as a member of the Montreal Expos. Heâ€™s the third former Expos player to be inducted, following Gary Carter and Tony Perez. Manager Dick Williams and coach Duke Snider are also in and thereâ€™s a good chance that John McHale will join them posthumously some day.
Dawson was upset he didnâ€™t have a say over what cap to wear during the ceremony but quite honestly, that should have been a no-brainer, even though â€œthe Hawkâ€ would have rather put on the Cub garment. In Dawsonâ€™s best years from 1980 to 1983, he averaged an OPS+ over 140, a figure he never reached even once with Chicago. Why so, even though at first glance it looks as if his numbers are rather spectacular? His number of walks was always very low, way lower in fact than the average player.
But enough said about that. Lots of people have had their opinion about the quality of his candidacy. The same debate occurred with Jim Rice but since Iâ€™m more in touch with Dawsonâ€™s career as I was able to follow him in Montreal, I want to restrict myself to the former Expos centerfielder.
On player value alone, many players who were active the late 1970s and early 1980s were better than Dawson. Both Evans, Dwight and Darrell, are very good examples of that. Keith Hernandez is another. The most flagrant case to me is his former teammate and friend Tim Raines, the best NL hitter over a five year period (1983-1987) who keeps being overlooked. None of these players are ever going to be voted in Cooperstown, even though stats studies show today that they were more valuable than Dawson. Well, that should close the case about whether heâ€™s Hall worthy, right? Not so fastâ€¦
I think it is unfair to judge him according to what we know now, contrary to what was believed at the time he played. His lack of discipline at the plate is the main culprit in his case, lowering his on-base percentage to average. The problem is that when he played, nobody viewed plate discipline and walks as an offensive weapon (Earl Weaver was an exception in that regard, which explains in great part his success with the Orioles). When Dawson played, a sacrifice fly was considered a job well done. A walk in such circumstances would be seen as a failure to deliver, even though we now know that sacrifice flies are mostly a deterrent to run scoring.
I remember a story former Expo Bob Bailey told me when he tried to negotiate a new contract with GM Jim FanningÂ in the 1970s. When Bailey brought up his high number of walks, Fanning replied: â€œWho cares about walks?â€ Maybe part of it was negotiations but this was the way of thinking back then. And Dawson was brought up in that kind of environment. Should we fault him for that? Some would say that he could never have adjusted, even had he known the real value of walks. Hard to say but I would be curious about it.
In his biography, Dawson says that after a couple of years, he began to learn more about the pitchers and what they were about to throw and thatÂ in some cases, he could even guess on what pitch he would swing atÂ to get a good cut on the delivery. That doesnâ€™t sound like someone who doesnâ€™t know what heâ€™s doing at the plate.
Another thing I want to bring up: the intangibles. In the case of the Hall of Fame, we talk about integrity, character, charisma, etc. In the case of Dawson, nobody would question his qualities. I had the chance to talk to lots of people for a book I wrote about the Expos (which was released in French last Fall). Everybody and I really mean EVERYBODY who came into contact with him had the utmost respect for Dawson for the way he handled himself and how he coped with the adversity.
He showed up day in and day out, even though his knees would kill him at times. He was professional in the way he prepared himself and was considered a silent leader by all his teammates. He could voice his opinion when things would go too far. In his first season, he got Tony Perez out of the cage during batting practice. Perez, a veteran who had just been acquired by the Expos to add some much-needed leadership to a group of promising young players, wanted to take some extra swings. Dawson was to follow and even if he was a rookie, he wouldnâ€™t go for that crap.
How was he regarded when he was at his peak? Simple: as one of the best! I read a lot of newspapers and sports publications from the time he played and his name was brought up every time a discussion would center around the best players in the majors. In fact, Dawson was named the Sporting News Player of the Year in 1981, an award given by a vote from his peers. Mike Schmidt was without a doubt the best player at the time, but that showed the respect Dawson got from everybody in the majors.
Some would blame Dawson for his failure to deliver when it counted in the playoffs, both in 1981 and 1989. In these cases, Dawson was his worst enemy in his will to make the difference. Like I said before, a walk was considered a failure and even more accept a walk. The pitchers however would know that with time and would never challenge the outfielder. By refusing to take a walk, Dawson would make himself as vulnerable as one can be.
Iâ€™m not trying to defend Andre Dawson and his place in Cooperstown with this column, but rather place in its proper perspective his career during a different era when the information and the statistical analysis were quite different than today. Is he Cooperstown worthy? According to the standards of the time, a resounding YES!!!
Alain Usereau has been a member of SABR since 1991. He has a Bachelorâ€™s degree in Mathematics (University of Sherbrooke, 1986) and a Certificateâ€™s degree in Journalism (Laval University, Quebec City, 1987). Heâ€™s been a broadcaster since 1989, mainly in sports. He is the author of a book about the heydays of the Montreal Expos, â€œLâ€™Ã©poque glorieuse des Exposâ€ (The golden years of the Expos), which depicts how they became not only a force in the late 1970s and early 1980s but became also the toast of a whole country. Alain is passionate about baseball and rock music.