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Jim Murray

This Success Story Wasn't Even News Before the '87 Season

July 12, 1987|Jim Murray

CHICAGO — There's a time to move on in this life, and the world lets you know when. All of a sudden, all the bills come due, there's a guy looking to repossess the car, both of your girlfriends start shopping for trousseaux and wedding rings at the same time, your bookie suggests you'll get both legs broken if you don't pay up, the IRS is sniffing around and your own dog starts to growl at you. A change is indicated.

Andre Dawson, the baseball player, knew it was time to hit the road when the two cops pulled guns on him and one of them stuck the barrel in his ribs and told him to assume the angle and spread them out.

It was a case of mistaken identity, all right. The trouble was, how in the world could Montreal cops have mistaken Andre Dawson for a robbery suspect--or anyone or anything else, for that matter? Andre should have been one of the most recognizable faces and figures in all the provinces of Canada at that point. He was only leading the Montreal Expos in lifetime home runs and stolen bases--in fact, he was one of only three major league ballplayers ever to have more than 225 home runs and stolen bases. He should have been in a Hall of Fame, not in handcuffs. He should have been right next to the Queen in recognition factor. I mean, would the cops have drawn down on Maurice (the Rocket) Richard?

It was time to hop a freight, call a cab, go over the wall. Andre had given the best years of his life to Canadian capers, and here were two cops on the intercom saying, "There's a guy here says he's a ballplayer." He suddenly realized he was just another voltigeur north of the border. He had delivered 1,575 hits, 295 of them doubles, 225 of them home runs. He had scored 828 runs, driven in another 838 in 10 full seasons at Montreal. Some people thought he was the best player, day-in, day-out, they had ever seen there, and here were these people saying, "Tell it to the judge."

Andre wasn't sure which direction he wanted to go except south. "That's a whole 'nother country up there," he remembers.

Migration had gotten a good name from Gary Carter, who had gone from a receveur in Montreal to a household word in New York.

The trouble was, Andre had picked the world's worst time to go looking for new worlds to conquer. Star outfielders were suddenly a drug on the market, whether due to collusion on the part of baseball's ownership or simply common sense. Dawson's teammate, Tim Raines, couldn't even get past customs in his quest. He had to go back.

Andre was not so easily discouraged. He had always hankered to play and live his baseball career in Chicago. It wasn't the weather, it was the ballpark. The Chicago National League team plays all its games in Wrigley Field and in broad daylight. Over the past 10 years, Andre Dawson has played his best baseball before dark--he is hitting 13 points higher in afternoon baseball--and he has batted .346 in Wrigley Field, which is only 56 points above his regular career average. He has hit 16 home runs there. Andre Dawson likes Wrigley Field for the same reason a shark likes warm water.

But if Andre wanted Wrigley, it didn't want him. "Who needs him?" shrugged Cub General Manager Dallas Green.

Just when it looked as if he was going to have to go back past the border guards, Andre Dawson did a remarkable, if desperate, thing. He offered to sign and send a blank contract to the Chicago Cubs. They could fill in the amount.

Baseball had never reckoned on this kind of ploy. Superstars don't usually make this kind of concession. They wondered what the catch was. It was like Farrah Fawcett begging you to kiss her.

The Cubs wriggled. Well, they hemmed, Dawson had a questionable hamstring. OK, said Dawson, we lop off 150 grand if I'm on the disabled list by the All-Star Game. However, if he's not on the DL by the All-Star break, he gets the $150,000. And if he makes the All-Star team, he gets another $50,000.

Dawson signed for a base salary of $500,000 or about half what he would have gotten for playing with Montreal. But he wasn't going to play for bubble gum. He gets $100,000 if he makes Most Valuable Player in the playoffs or World Series.

Since the Cubs haven't been in a World Series since 1945, they could hardly pass up this incentive clause.

So, the good news is, Andre Dawson can't get arrested in this town. It's his kind of town, Chicago is. And he's its kind of guy, Andre is.

When he got beaned by a San Diego pitcher here last week, you would have thought it was the return of the Capone gang. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre never drew such an outpouring of indignation. The pitcher who hit Dawson, Eric Show, came into focus as a combination of Frank Nitti and the cow that started the fire. Newspapers fulminated, the league president got hotly in the act, editors sternly called into question Eric Show's political views (John Birch Society).

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