Why the Hall of Fame Shouldn’t Answer Andre Dawson’s Letter

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“They don’t want me, and I don’t want them.” Those are the words Andre Dawson used in the days following the 1986 season about the Montreal Expos.

Now, more than three decades after the so-called “dog and pony show” Dawson and his agent had to put on in order to get a contract to play baseball, Dawson is trying once again to rid himself of the Expos. But this time the bad reminder for Dawson is written in bronze.

Last month, according to quotes in the Chicago Tribune, Andre Dawson sent a letter to the National Baseball Hall of Fame requesting that his plaque be changed to show his portrait in a Cubs’ cap. Currently, Dawson is one of the few Hall of Famers who have the “ELB” logo of Montreal on their plaque in Cooperstown.

“I don’t expect them to jump on something like this,” Dawson said. “If they elect to respond, they’ll take their time. And it wouldn’t surprise me if they don’t respond.”

That’s exactly what the Hall of Fame should do: not respond. The request, if granted would only open a hornet’s nest for the Hall of Fame. Dawson would be just the first player to successfully pressure the folks in Cooperstown to change his plaque, but he wouldn’t be the last.

Why Dawson Doesn’t Want a Montreal Cap on his Plaque

The Expos drafted Dawson in the 1975 Major League Baseball draft. He was only briefly in their minor league system before he made his Major League Debut at the tail end of the 1976 season. Dawson was a five-tool player, with great speed, power, and a strong throwing arm to go with his ability to hit and play the outfield.

Dawson was Rookie of the Year in the National League in 1977, when he hit 19 home runs and stole 21 bases. BY the late 1970s he was one of the bright stars in the game, and his talents melded with teammates who made Montreal a playoff contender. In 1981, the franchise finally made its first postseason appearance, and Dawson was an All-Star center fielder. That October they lost to the Dodgers in the League Championship Series, the final blow coming in what became known in Quebec as “Blue Monday.”

But, Montreal is a hockey city. Even with Dawson and a few other stars on the roster, the Expos could never garner the attention or popularity of the national sport. By 1986 when Dawson was set to become a free agent, the outfielder’s knees were almost ruined from playing on the harsh carpeted surface of Olympic Stadium, a venue never meant for baseball. He told his employers unless they changed the playing surface he was gone. The Expos ignored him.

In 1986, MLB commissioner Peter Ueberoth hatched a scheme that made the owners of baseball salivate over their golden teeth. Ueberroth convinced all 26 MLB owners that they should not bid on free agent ballplayers from other teams that winter. This collusion was illegal, and it ended up costing the league and its owners hundreds of millions of dollars. But, in the short term it made it difficult for players like Dawson to find a job.

That’s what led Dawson and his agent to Cubs’ spring training camp with a blank contract. “Fill in any sum you think is far,” Dawson told the Cubs. After team general manager Dallas Green initially called the stunt “a dog and pony show,” the Cubs wrote $500,000 onto the contract and secured their right fielder.

In 1987, his knees delightfully happy by playing on the grass at Wrigley Field, Dawson hit 49 home runs. He was the second-lowest paid regular in the Chicago lineup, but he won the NL Most Valuable Player Award. The fans in the Windy City quickly adopted “The Hawk” as their own.

And thus, Dawson severed any ties he had with Montreal. As far as Andre was concerned, his years playing for the Expos were better left forgotten. In 2004, just eight years after Dawson played his final MLB game, the Expos folded. Baseball in Quebec, an experiment with mixed results going back to 1969, was finished.

Museum Wanted to Honor Montreal Baseball History

In the 2010 BBWAA Hall of Fame balloting, Dawson was elected with nearly 78% of the vote. At the time he became just the second player who spent a significant amount of time with the Expos to be elected. The other was Gary Carter, who was inducted in 2003 and received a Montreal cap on his plaque, much to his chagrin.

Just as when Carter was elected, the Hall of Fame made the decision for Dawson that it was important to have a Montreal cap in his plaque to properly tell the history of baseball. It was clear that had the Expos still existed in 2010, maybe the decision would have been different. But, Dawson’s sail was attached to the Montreal mast, whether he liked it or not.

Dawson was the first player drafted by the Expos to be elected to Cooperstown. Six of his eight Gold Glove Awards were won in a Montreal uniform. He played 11 of his 21 seasons north of the border.

But for Dawson, the bad feelings about his exit from Montreal, and the collusion, combined to spoil his feelings about that part of his career. It didn’t help that the franchise no longer existed. The Cubs could honor Dawson on their field, retire his number, salute him as “one of their own” among Hall of Famers. What could Montreal do? Nothing.

Former Dawson teammate Tim Raines was later elected to the Hall, and his plaque also has a Montreal insignia on his cap. Raines played two stints with the Expos. Unlike Dawson, he never had a second team where he had award-winning success. The choice for the Raines plaque was simple. Now, Dawson’s letter to Cooperstown makes his situation complicated.

Cooperstown Shouldn’t Bend to Pressure from Players

If the leadership of the Baseball Hall of Fame succumbs to the wishes of Dawson and puts a Cubs logo on his plaque, where doe sit end? When Wade Boggs was inducted he requested a Tampa Bay cap on his plaque, because he was still employed by that team as an advisor. The Hall refused.

Back in 1999 when Nolan Ryan was inducted, his plaque emerged with a Texas Rangers logo on his cap. Ryan was, at the time, associated with the front office of that same team. Some criticized the decision, since Ryan pitched only five seasons for the Rangers, and had many of his biggest moments with the Angels and Astros.

Fred McGriff will be inducted into the Hall of Fame next summer. The former first baseman and power hitter had a unique career that saw him play at least 500 games with three teams: Atlanta, Toronto, and Tampa Bay. He was an All-Star with three teams, and earned MVP votes while playing for four teams. He played five seasons for all three of these clubs: Braves, Rays, and Blue Jays. No matter which cap appears on his plaque, McGriff is bound to get grief from fans in some of the cities where he played. The Hall will need to weigh how it should portray McGriff’s career on a plaque that could hang on the wall of that museum in upstate New York for centuries.

But, the Hall of Fame shouldn’t bend to McGriff or any other player and put a cap on the plaque in favor of the inductee. Otherwise, how long before players are auctioning off the cap insignia of their Cooperstown plaque?

In this instance, Dawson’s letter to Cooperstown should simply be returned to sender.

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is the author of three books about baseball, including Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Major League Baseball Advanced Media. He lives in Michigan where he writes, runs, and enjoys a good orange soda now and again.
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