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Cubs Came In Last, but Dawson Finishes First : He Becomes Only Member of a Team in the Cellar to Be Most Valuable Player

November 19, 1987|Associated Press

NEW YORK — Andre Dawson of the Chicago Cubs became the first member of a last-place team to be named Most Valuable Player, winning the National League award Wednesday.

Dawson, a free agent whom no club bid for last winter, led the majors with 137 runs batted in and tied for the lead in home runs with 49. He beat out St. Louis shortstop Ozzie Smith by a 269-193 margin in voting by the Baseball Writers Assn. of America.

"I tried to be realistic and not hold out too much hope," said Dawson, who admitted he thought the Cubs' poor finish could hurt his chances. "I'm thrilled despite a pretty dismal season by the ballclub."

"I wanted to convince the baseball world that I would indeed perform better under different circumstances--those circumstances being to get away from the AstroTurf and onto a natural playing field."

Jack Clark, Smith's teammate on the NL East champion St. Louis team that finished 18 1/2 games ahead of Chicago, was third with 186. Montreal's Tim Wallach was fourth, and San Francisco's Will Clark was fifth. Cy Young Award winner Steve Bedrosian of Philadelphia finished 16th.

Dawson and the Clarks were the only players named on all 24 ballots. Smith was named on 22. Two association members in each of the 12 NL cities were eligible to vote.

Dawson got 11 first-place votes, Smith 9, Jack Clark 3 and Wallach 1.

"I'm not disappointed," Smith said. "It's one of those things I didn't give much thought to. Hopefully, I'll wake up tomorrow."

Smith batted a career-high .303 with 75 RBIs and 43 stolen bases. He committed 10 errors, equaling his fewest ever in a season.

Dawson came to the Cubs this spring, handing a blank contract to then-General Manager Dallas Green. The Cubs, burned by multimillion-dollar free agent contracts in the past, filled in the amount of $500,000, making Dawson the team's second-lowest-paid regular.

But Dawson, 33, had his best season while the Cubs struggled to a 76-85 record. Dawson batted .287 and played a strong right field while surpassing his previous bests of 32 home runs and 113 RBIs, both in 1983 with Montreal.

He also earned an additional $150,000 for staying off the disabled list and an extra $50,000 for making the All-Star team for the fourth time. He did not have an incentive clause for winning the MVP award.

Dawson, vowing last winter that he would not return to the Expos for a 12th season, rejected salary arbitration and tested the free-agent market. The Expos offered a two-year contract worth $2 million, and no other team topped that figure.

From the start, Dawson wanted to play at Wrigley Field, where there are no lights. Dawson had a .346 career average at Wrigley. In 10 previous seasons, his average and home run production were always higher during the day.

"I felt strong all season," Dawson said. "I would wake up in the morning and just look forward to going to the ballpark."

Dawson joined Ernie Banks and Chuck Klein as the only players from teams with losing records to win the MVP. Banks, also of the Cubs, won it in 1958 and 1959. Klein won it with Philadelphia in 1930.

Dawson tied Oakland rookie Mark McGwire for the major league home run lead. Dawson's home run and RBI totals were the best in the NL since George Foster's 52-homer, 149-RBI season for Cincinnati in 1977.

In 1986, Dawson batted .284 with 20 homers and 78 RBIs.

Dawson's $500,000 base salary was a figure earned by most journeymen these days and surpassed this season in bonus money by Kansas City's Steve Balboni ($525,000). Only Cub shortstop Shawon Dunston had a lower salary among the team's regulars.

On Aug. 1, Dawson hit three home runs at Wrigley Field for the second time in his career. He also hit three home runs and drove in eight runs in September 1985 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, leading the Expos to a 17-15 victory.

When Dawson homered in his final Wrigley Field at-bat this season, he rounded the bases as the crowd chanted, "M-V-P, M-V-P."

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