There are few players who as beloved in every city they have played in than Baseball Hall of Fame Andre Dawson. From Montreal to Chicago with a few other stops, “The Hawk” is held in reverence not only for his play on the field but for his gentility and his level of professionalism off the field.
Now Dawson has penned his story, “If You Love This Game…An MVP’s Life in Baseball,” on what it was like through all those so-close MLB seasons. We caught up with Dawson to get his thoughts on the Cubs of today, Magic Johnson buying the Dodgers, his beloved Montreal, and the state of baseball in general:
Q. When you visit Cooperstown, what are the thoughts you have that you, a kid from Miami, have become one of baseball’s immortals?
A. I feel that I’m very, very blessed and lucky, and to be enshrined and immortalized with the elite to ever play the game is a blessing that I will continuously be thankful for.
Q. What kind of responsibility does that bring?
A. You’re looked at in a different light and become highly respected. People look up to you, and as a result, there comes a responsibility once you become a Hall of Famer.
Q. What were your favorite memories of playing in Montreal?
A. The culture and customs. The language difference was a hassle at times with French and English, but for me, it was a pleasurable experience, because I got to experience playing baseball outside the United States. The two sports (baseball and hockey) transcended the differences between to the two languages. Even though it was played the same way, it just appeared to be different because it was presented in French.
Q. Do you think the city should get baseball back at some level at some point soon?
A. I was very saddened when baseball left Montreal. I really felt that the sport was growing on the fans and they really supported the organization for a number of years. I think what’s important and what was probably the cause of the downfall was the fact that the ballpark wasn’t in the proper location or something that was suitable for baseball. It probably won’t happen, but I would like to see baseball return to Montreal.
Q. What could have been done to keep the Expos there?
A. You have to win. When you win, that puts you in a position to do other things as an organization. It brings a lot to the city, itself. I just think that it took a little bit more than that; it took an all-out effort on the part of the city, the people who run the city and the fans. There are a lot of reasons why it didn’t work, but the good thing about it was being there during the good years.
Q. How did playing in Chicago compare to your experience elsewhere?
A. I played in Boston, I played in Miami and of course ten years in Montreal. But Chicago was what it was all about in my eyes. Playing on a natural playing surface, the fans right on top of you, games usually sold out, support and encouragement, a media center and knowledgeable fans…to me, it was fun…it was the game at this level is all about. I had the best time of my career playing in Chicago.
Q. Who were the toughest pitchers you faced and why?
A. John Smoltz was tough and my numbers against him reflected that. He wasn’t overpowering, he just had a knack for the strike zone and how to pitch. He was very astute. Bruce Suter, a closer with the St. Louis Cardinals was tough because he brought in the split-finger forkball. I think Mike Marshall threw that pitch earlier, but Suter really commanded it well and it made him one of the dominant relievers in his era. Not seeing him a lot made it tough, too.
Q. What can baseball do to bring more people of color back to the game?
A. Baseball has made a lot of strides; they’ve reached out to the communities. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but I think they need to dig deeper into inner cities to reach these kids at a much younger age. That’s when it starts, and you can’t do when they’re in their early teens because at that point, they’re already behind the eight ball. These kids don’t want to be in a position where they fail, and if they start late, most of the time they’re going to fail because they are behind. It all starts at home at a young age where parents put the time in and get the kids interested and excited…work with them one-on-one, so when they are in the environment later on, they’re not behind. I think baseball has taken a lot of strides but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Q. What do you see as your biggest contribution to sports and society?
A. My contribution was not so much what I did on the field, numbers, accomplishments, etc.; it’s what and how I was able to affect others who play the game and who wanted to the play the game…the fans, the kids. By not embarrassing the organization and not disrespecting the uniform, but trying to play and set an example, to me that’s my greatest accomplishment and hopefully a part of my legacy in the end. For me, it was more important for me to play the game the way it was supposed to be played and not take advantage of my blessings.
Q. What does Theo Epstein bring to Wrigleyville that others have not?
A. Theo, even though in Boston he did inherit a good ballclub, he has an idea, he’s young and astute and knows the direction needed. He won’t ill-advisedly spend money and he’ll carefully monitor what the strengths and weaknesses of this ballclub and how to blend in the right pieces. He’s done it in the past and will only get better at what he does.
Q. Any thoughts on managing or ownership of a team, like what Magic Johnson has done with the Dodgers?
A. I was surprised to see Magic go that direction even though I know he’s a huge sports fan. Maybe it’s natural for him since he’s based in southern California. I don’t really have sincere interest in managing because at this stage managers are usually in their prime or not even in the game anymore. I’m not quite 60 yet, and I look at the direction of the game…which is great…but I’m too old school. With my makeup and expectations, I would probably be expecting too much. If I had the horses, I could made the transition from old school to new school, but if the players are young, it takes a lot of patience, and sometimes you have to be a little more patient than upper management.