Cubs great Dawson embodies Scout's Dream Award
The baseball scouts are honoring Hall of Famer Andre Dawson next month with something called the "Scout's Dream Award for Outstanding Achievement in Baseball History."
That's a mouthful, but when the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation decided to honor the "Hawk" at their Jan. 16 fundraiser in Beverly Hills, Calif., they would have been hard-pressed to find a better recipient.
Ferguson Jenkins, himself a Hall of Famer and former Cub, will make the presentation. Accolades, not to mention adjectives, will flow.
Granted, Dawson, now 61, etched numbers during his 21-year career that are more than worthy of special recognition in baseball's storied history: 438 homers, 1,591 RBIs, .279 batting average and one of just eight players with at least 300 homers and 300 stolen bases. He also won the 1987 National League Most Valuable Player Award and the '77 NL Rookie of the Year Award.
But this is a Scout's Dream Award, and nothing could be more accurate.
The Hawk, despite aching knees that required 12 surgeries, had his greatest summers with the Chicago Cubs, including the year he won the 1987 NL MVP Award with a last-place team.
And the fact that Dawson became a Cub is in itself a dream of sorts.
Just the other day, the Cubs signed free-agent outfielder Jason Heyward to an eight-year, $184 million deal. And before that, the Red Sox gave left-hander David Price $217 million over seven years. And then there was pitcher Zack Greinke: six years, $206.5 million from the D-backs.
Dawson signed with the Cubs in 1987 for $500,000 plus incentives -- $7,500 less than 2016's minimum salary.
"Something like that, the way Dawson came to us, may never happen again," said Dallas Green, the Cubs' general manager who signed Dawson.
Turned out to be a dream for both.
Dawson, whose knees were ailing after 11 years on Montreal's artificial turf, became a free agent following the 1986 season. He and agent Dick Moss were having difficulty finding a suitable team with a natural-grass field interested in the outfielder.
"I asked Moss what it was going to take to put Montreal behind, stay in the NL and move forward," Dawson told me during a recent interview. "I said, 'Sometimes I feel like I could play this game without being paid. It's not about the money.' That's how much I love the game."
Dawson remembers offering two teams -- the Cubs and Braves -- a blank contract.
A blank contract? Yes.
"The Cubs were my first choice, but when we visited the Cubs in 1987 at the start of Spring Training, Green didn't know what to make of the blank contract. He looked at it and said, 'What's this?' I said, 'Fill in what you think I'm worth.' He went on to say he had younger players he had to provide an opportunity for. I said, 'You're two years removed from the playoffs, and you're not going to win with young players.' I told him we'd leave the contract on the table for 24 hours and we went home."
"Big D," as Green is called, is known for his bluster. He's a baseball lifer and a tough negotiator. I can picture him laughing at Dawson and Moss, not really taking them seriously.
But Green was in a bind.
"I was out of money, and the Tribune Company [the Cubs' owner then] wasn't going to allow me to add to our payroll," remembers Green, who's managed the Phillies, Mets and Yankees and now is a Phils advisor.
But Green said he had nothing to lose. Not for a player of Dawson's ability.
Green called Dawson and said $500,000 was the best offer he could make -- a $700,000 cut in pay from the Hawk's 1986 salary. Dawson ultimately accepted and had his finest year.
The deal included $250,000 in incentives if Dawson made the All-Star team, started the All-Star Game and won the 1987 NL MVP Award. He did all three.
"That says a lot about the character of Andre Dawson," Green said the other day as he looked over the recent free-agent signings. "That type of [contract] wouldn't happen today. No way."
"There isn't a player in baseball history who worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson," said Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, a Cubs teammate. "He's the best I've ever seen. I watched him win an MVP for a last-place team in 1987, and it was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen in baseball."
A dream, indeed.