Remembering when Andre Dawson offered the Cubs a blank contract
On March 9, 1987, superstar outfielder Andre Dawson, frustrated he had received no offers in the more than four months since he'd been declared a free agent, agreed to terms to play for the Chicago Cubs after giving the club a blank contract to fill out.
It was a stark example of the way baseball owners colluded to deny players' contractual free agent rights during the mid-1980s and the effect it had on players' salaries.
"It was an agreement not to improve your team," was the way the union's first executive director, Marvin Miller, characterized it.
Grievances were filed by the Players Association after the 1985, 1986 and 1987 free-agent markets and, more than three years later, a $280 million arbitration settlement was awarded in November 1990 to compensate the three classes of players whose earnings had been reduced during those years.
"The Hawk" had been Rookie of the Year, twice finished second for the NL MVP Award and earned six Gold Gloves during his first 10 years in the majors. He had established Expos records for games, at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, extra base hits, total bases and stolen bases. He had been on the disabled list just once.
In 1986, the final year of his contract with Montreal, he had batted .284 with 20 home runs in 130 games.
Dawson, then 32, was dissatisfied with what he considered a low-ball offer from the Expos. He also wanted to shop his services to clubs who played their home games on natural turf because he had chronically sore knees from playing on the artificial surface at Olympic Stadium. But he received no contract offers.
So along with his agent (and former MLBPA general counsel) Dick Moss, Dawson decided on the team he considered the best fit - the Chicago Cubs - and they devised their "blank contract" strategy.
Then Cubs general manager Dallas Green, although reluctant at first to entertain the offer, calling it a "dog and pony show," relented when he understood that the offer was legitimate and he could sign the future Hall of Famer for a bargain-basement price of what turned out to be $500,000 plus incentives.
"We stated that Andre would sign for whatever salary terms Cub management said was fair and appropriate, bearing in mind their knowledge of the salary structure in baseball and their knowledge of who Andre is," the Chicago Tribune quoted Moss when Dawson signed.
"We had hoped that the club's definition of fairness would have been more realistic, but our offer was unconditional and we will, of course, honor our commitment."
Moss was frustrated, but happy that Dawson had at least been able to choose the team for whom he would play that season.
"Andre will be paid a salary, in my opinion, less than one-half of what he would be entitled to if he were properly slotted into baseball's salary structure. However, none of this detracts in any way from his enthusiasm of joining the Cubs or his eagerness to make a contribution to the team's competitiveness."
Anxious to prove his real value, Dawson batted .287 with a league-leading 49 home runs, 137 RBI and 353 total bases. Even though the Cubs finished in last place that season, Dawson was awarded the NL MVP Award and his seventh Gold Glove Award.
"I can't describe for you the feeling of elation I experienced as we walked out of Green's office that afternoon," Dawson wrote in his autobiography. "I had taken back control of my own life."