Dawson induction a rare Expos moment
Andre Dawson has provided another memory for baseball’s forgotten franchise, the Montreal Expos.
On Sunday, Dawson will become the latest player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the second — joining Gary Carter — to be enshrined wearing an Expos cap.
And, befitting the Expos' stepchild image, even that comes with a bit of controversy.
Cubs fans were angry about the Hall of Fame’s decision on the hat that would adorn Dawson’s plaque, recalling that Dawson initially said he would like to be remembered for his time at Wrigley Field.
"The cap wasn’t a huge or major issue," Dawson said. "It was just a preference of mine."
The Expos signed Dawson in 1975 as an 11th-round draft pick out of Florida A&M, starting him on the way to a career that would bring him an NL MVP, NL Rookie of the Year, eight All-Star appearances, eight Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger awards. He is joined by Willie Mays and Barry Bonds as the only players with 300 career home runs and 400 stolen bases.
Dawson was on the Hall of Fame ballot nine times before he received the needed support of 75 percent of the veteran members of the Baseball Writers Association of America to be enshrined.
One of the beauties of the Baseball Hall of Fame is that the raging debates are over who is not in the Hall instead of who is in the Hall, a problem in other sports. It is the elite nature of membership in the Baseball Hall of Fame that makes the election so special, Dawson said.
The only regret, Dawson said, is that his mother, who passed away four years ago, isn’t in Cooperstown this weekend.
"And then I had my mother-in-law who passed away a couple of months ago who was a big fan and supporter," Dawson said. "So that’s the only thing that kind of plays with you because if you are going to get in you want to make sure the people who helped you along the way have the opportunity to enjoy the moment, too.’’
There will be a few Montreal fans who are in Cooperstown to enjoy the moment, but not too many. But then, there weren’t many fans at Olympic Stadium back in the days when the Expos were in Montreal.
They most likely will be drowned out by Cubs fans, who will forever have a special feeling for Dawson because he was the guy who was willing to sign a blank contract to play for their team in 1987. And he never uttered a complaint when the Cubs filled in a salary of $500,000, a $700,000 pay cut from what he made in Montreal the previous season.
Dawson’s response was an MVP season despite playing for a last-place team — 49 home runs and 137 RBI.
The reason Dawson went on the free-agent market after the 1986 season is the Expos wanted him to take a $200,000 pay cut. His feelings were hurt and, realizing that having spent 10 years on that worn-out artificial surface at Olympic Stadium had taken a toll on his aching knees, Dawson went looking for a new employer.
That was the offseason of collusion, when teams declined to offer free agents contracts. Dawson forced the issue. He decided he wanted to play for the Cubs because he enjoyed day games or Atlanta because of the proximity to his Florida home.
"If I was going to have to take a cut in pay, I wanted to go somewhere I knew the game would be fun again," he said. "I wanted to enjoy it and hopefully take a lot of wear and tear off my knees. … We felt I was not going to be offered a contract so we had to make an offer that an organization couldn’t refuse. We went to the Cubs first and told them they had 24 hours to respond.’’
The Cubs called Dawson’s bluff, and found out he wasn’t bluffing.
"I told them it was about pride and principle and I was man enough to present them the blank contract and I would live up to that deal," he said.
Twenty-three years later, it’s a decision Dawson is glad he made, but he also sounds like he has a bit of remorse that things didn’t work out in Montreal for him in particular and the Expos in general.
"I felt (the Expos) were always maybe a particular free agent or two away from getting to the next level, getting to the World Series," Dawson said. "It was very tough to get the quality free agents to want to come across the border and play in Montreal. They would entertain it but their decision at the last minute was to go elsewhere.
"But it was fun. It was fun playing in Montreal."
"Was." Heavy on the past tense.
Born of expansion in 1969, the Expos franchise was moved after the 2004 season to Washington, D.C., where baseball is hoping the third time is a charm and the nation’s capital will actually support a team this time.
The diehards will forever contend that the strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series was the final nail in the Expos' coffin. A group of local businessmen had purchased the franchise from original owner Charles Bronfman in 1991, and the reward appeared on the horizon in 1994.
Working to get local support for a new stadium, the ownership was riding the wave of a team that not only appeared on its way to the postseason for only the second time, but actually entertained World Series ambitions.
The season, however, came to a sudden end on Aug. 11, 1994. The Expos had a best-in-baseball record of 74-40, and a six-game lead on Atlanta in the NL East. By the time the strike was settled and the 1995 season began, the exodus of Expos stars had begun.
The Expos cut payroll by basically giving Marquis Grissom to Atlanta, Ken Hill to St. Louis and John Wetteland to the Yankees for non-prospects. They also lost Larry Walker to free agency, not even offering arbitration, which would have allowed the Expos to at least get two draft choices for losing him to Colorado.
After a failed attempt in the 1994-95 offseason to contract the Expos and Minnesota Twins, Major League Baseball eventually took over ownership of the Montreal franchise and moved it to Washington, D.C., for the 2005 season, where the name was changed from Expos to Nationals, and the team records started anew, as if the Expos never existed.
Thanks to Dawson, though, the Expos may be gone but they won’t be forgotten.
• Dawson is the only former player who is being inducted this year. Whitey Herzog will be inducted as a manager and Doug Harvey as an umpire. Jon Miller received the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting and Bill Madden the J.G. Taylor Spring Award for writing.
• With two players in the Hall of Fame wearing their cap, the Expos and Milwaukee (Robin Yount and Paul Molitor) have the strongest representation of the 14 expansion teams, which date back to the addition of the Angels and Senators/Rangers in 1961.
• The Angels (Nolan Ryan), Mets (Tom Seaver), Royals (George Brett) and Padres (Tony Gwynn) have one enshrinee each.
• Florida (1993), Colorado (1993), Houston (1962), Arizona (1997), Tampa Bay (1997), Toronto (1977), Seattle (1977) and Washington/Texas (1961) are the only teams without a player in the Hall of Fame.
• The Dodgers have the most managers in the Hall — Walt Alston, Leo Durocher, Tommy Lasorda and Wilbert Robinson.