By Daniel I. Dorfman-
(CBS) There aren’t too many reasons for Cubs fans to cheer right now. That happens when your team is twenty games south of .500 in mid-July. But one of the few moments Cubs fans were able to cheer this past weekend occurred when Andre Dawson, the warrior of warriors, came in and said hello to the Wrigley faithful.
Before Saturday’s game, he threw out the first pitch and then led the 40,000 plus throng in Take Me Out to the Ballgame, bringing back a lot of happy memories for a crowd looking back on his stellar play a generation ago.
While the player known as “The Hawk” is now associated with the Marlins, Dawson is willing to give his thoughts on the Cubs for whom he played for six seasons and what personnel changes he would like to see.
“I think in this ballpark you need marquee pitching and I’d like to see them get a legitimate leadoff hitter,” Dawson said. “Somebody that can steal a base for you. This organization, it seems to me, plays base-to-base and has not had a lot of speed in the lineup and you need to steal a base.”
He feels empathy for the Cubs fans suffering through yet another lousy year.
“Like everyone who is a Cub fan you want to see them reach that ultimate pinnacle. The situation hasn’t looked that promising the last couple of years, but that is how you find out where you are as an organization and how you need to tweak your ballclub and what changes need to be made. That is how you move forward.”
Given his lofty career accomplishments, Dawson has a right to speak out. He made eight All-Star teams and won eight Gold Gloves in 21 seasons. In addition, Dawson is only one of three players to steal 300 bases and hit 400 homers over the course of his career. He was also the first player to achieve double figures in homers and stolen bases for 12 consecutive seasons.
He loves to talk about the people that came out to see him play rightfield.
“The fans, they don’t change,” Dawson noted. “It is good to see 30-plus thousand every day. For an athlete, that makes it exciting, so it is always good to come back.”
The circumstances surrounding Dawson’s arrival in Chicago almost 25 years ago remain far-fetched at best to those who weren’t following the game at that time. But it is part of his personal history and he is still asked about it at speaking events.
After playing ten full seasons on the absolute rock pile that was Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, he was so determined to play on natural grass and sign with the Cubs in 1987 that he offered a blank check to then general manager Dallas Green and let him fill in the amount. Green was reluctant to sign Dawson but eventually did. His decision paid off as Dawson responded by hitting 49 homers and driving in 137 runs on his way to the NL MVP award while playing for a last place team. Not surprisingly, he became a fan favorite.
Dawson realizes today’s players might have some trouble with his blank-check proposal, which in fact was made during a period of collusion of baseball owners as they were trying to lower free agency salaries.
“They definitely would pose the question: ‘What were you thinking about?’. It has never been done and perhaps won’t be done again,” Dawson said. “Each and every individual is different. You have to do what you have to do to continue to move forward in the game.”
After finishing up his career in Florida in 1996, Dawson now works for the Marlins in the front office but is also a presence in a clubhouse that now has a manager in Jack McKeon who was born during the Great Depression.
But don’t let his age fool you.
“Jack is feisty,” Dawson said. “For an 80-year-old, he is still on top of everything. He’s demanding for an individual who has been in and out of the game but still involved with the game. He still goes out and tells people what he expects and that is how he goes about each and every day. You play the game to win under every circumstance.”
McKeon is happy to reciprocate on the compliments.
“He’s a pro,” McKeon said while chomping on one of his cigars in the Marlins dugout. “He made himself into a Hall of Famer. He was a dedicated player and he gave you 100 percent all the time. Having a guy like him instruct some of these players is tremendous. If you look at his numbers, you have to respect him. Anybody who does not respect a Hall of Famer, I feel sorry for him.”
With his home, family and business interests in Miami, don’t look for Dawson to be leaving the Marlins anytime soon, but he still encourages players if the Cubs are offering an opportunity, he has six years of warm memories to prove it can be a very worthwhile experience.
“The way I was embraced and the way the fans allowed me to go out and have fun,” Dawson remembered. “Chicago overwhelms you and I will tell any ballplayer that ever has the opportunity, if you get the chance to experience playing in Wrigley Field, don’t pass it up.”
Daniel I. Dorfman is a local freelance writer who has written and reported for the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe among many other nationally prominent broadcast, online and print media organizations. He is also a researcher for 670 The Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DanDorfman To read more of Daniel’s blogs click here.