Dawson earns inaugural Curt Flood Award

October 22nd, 2020

Major League Baseball’s Players Association has selected Hall of Fame outfielder as the winner of the inaugural Curt Flood Award, given to a former player who “demonstrated a selfless, longtime devotion to the Players Association and advancement of players’ rights.”

Flood, a former three-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion outfielder who passed away in 1997, left a towering legacy after he engaged in judicial battles to end baseball’s reserve system. Flood’s efforts, while unsuccessful in his personal case, laid the groundwork for player free agency in the National Pastime.

Dawson was known throughout his 21-year Major League career as a player who led through quiet example and boundless effort on the field -- even through a series of knee injuries that were exacerbated by playing on Montreal’s hard Astroturf. His legacy includes a memorable decision prior to the 1987 season when Dawson, a top free agent during the height of collusion by Major League clubs, handed the Cubs a blank contract and asked Chicago to fill out a salary that it deemed appropriate for his talents.

“Myself, my agent, we did some creative thinking,” Dawson reflected of that moment in a video released by the Players’ Association on Thursday, “and we devised a plan. I didn’t know what the outcome was going to be as a result. I guess I made the decision, it’s not about the monetary issues; it’s about pride and principle moving forward.”

Added former Players Association executive director Donald Fehr, “You had a graphic demonstration that one of the very best players of the game was of no interest to any team except his existing team.”

The Cubs chose a base salary of $500,000 -- $500,000 less than what Dawson’s former team, the Expos, were offering -- but Dawson stuck to his word and signed with Chicago. Dawson, the second-lowest paid player on the Cubs’ roster, went on to prove his value on the field, winning that year’s National League Most Valuable Player Award while leading the league with 49 home runs, 137 RBIs and 353 total bases. His bold contract decision and subsequent stellar play is now seen as landmark moment for players’ rights, and it was instrumental in eventually producing a $280 million collusion settlement between players and MLB owners.

“That changed the circumstances of the way people looked at the entire thing that was going on with collusion,” said fellow Hall of Famer and MLBPA special advisor Dave Winfield. “[Dawson] could have had a bad season, but he didn’t. He played under immense pressure. It was by hard work, dedication, going against the odds and playing in pain.”

Don Baylor, Mark Belanger and Jim Bunning were the other finalists for the Curt Flood Award, which was voted on by a panel of distinguished former and current Players Association executives.