MESA, Ariz. — Andre Dawson looks as if he's in pretty good shape. But he's taking things slow. His knees still ache. He's not doing all the baserunning drills, just to play it safe.
"As long as I'm ready by the season opener," the outfielder said.
The Cubs signed him just the other day, and the city of Chicago went cuckoo. But Andre Dawson warned his new teammates not to expect a miracle.
"Hey, don't put the monkey on me!" he told them.
Being a free agent isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's bad enough sitting at home while everyone else is getting a head start at spring training, but when you eventually do sign (for peanuts, practically), should everyone expect you to turn the team around?
He just got here.
The thing is, Dawson is here because he got sick of sitting around. He's 32 now. Time is a-wasting. He figured he could sign a one-year deal now and go to arbitration in 1988 to get what's coming to him. In the meantime, he'll play.
He said his buddy and former Montreal teammate, Tim Raines, is finally getting the message. Dawson spoke with Raines Sunday night and Raines told him he was getting "restless." Raines is free agent and isn't being offered big money. Raines made $1.5 million with Montreal last season and won a batting crown, but no major league team has offered more than $1.1 million (the Padres made the only offer).
"Timmy wants to play," Dawson said. "He wants to get into spring training. But the offers being made at this time are sort of a slap in the face.
"The way things are going, he'll probably have to take a cut in pay (from last season). It's sort of unheard of that a guy who leads the league in hitting has to go through this. . . . In the long run, he'll get what he's looking for."
But not this year.
"Timmy mentioned he would (take a pay cut)," Dawson said. "He doesn't want to return to Montreal (which he could do as of May 1). He said all along that if it boils down to having to take a pay cut, he will. . . . What it may come to is making a choice of where he wants to play."
Dawson made that choice. He chose the Cubs. It's because of his knees. Wrigley Field has that forgiving grass, and Dawson figures he can play about 150 games this season. Besides, there are all those day games and the wind blowing out.
"I probably, at the most, want to play four more years," he said. "So I think it (going to Wrigley) is a good move on my part because if I want to extend my career I've just got to get off that AstroTurf. The difference between the two surfaces is night and day.
"I felt I had to make a deal that was best situated for myself. I wanted to play here. It was a low figure ($500,000 guaranteed when he could have made $1 million with Montreal), but I was willing to stand by the proposal I made."
Dawson and his agent, Dick Moss, said they were willing to give the Cubs a blank check. He told them to just fill in the number. He'd sign.
Donald Fehr, the director of the Major League Players Assn., said the Cubs didn't want to go through with it.
"He shamed them into it," Fehr said Wednesday in Lakeland, Fla. "They couldn't figure out a way to say no. . . . I think what Dawson did was to demonstrate that sometimes you have to make sacrifices. You need to demonstrate that some things are more important than money."
Besides, Dawson was sick of sitting at home.
Will Raines get sick of it too?
"You can sit around for just so long," Dawson said. "Your pride has to take a seat now and then. You've got to remember you've got a family, and you've got bills you've got to pay. Even though Timmy's at an age (27) where he can sit out, financially, it just wouldn't be feasible for him to do something like that."
Raines has threatened to sit out the season. But Dawson said he feels certain that Raines will be in some big league city by opening day.
"I surely hope so," Dawson said. "And he certainly shouldn't go back to Montreal (on May 1). I hope he doesn't get into that situation because that would involve him missing all of spring training and the first month of the season. And then you never know what kind of start he'll get off to. It could affect the entire season for him."
Dawson himself wasn't willing to take that chance.
Tim Raines might be.
"I'm telling you," Dawson said. "I spoke with him Sunday and he sounded like it's all getting tough for him."