Dawson’s Blank Check

There was a lot of news yesterday – from Apple’s unveiling of their Personal Access Display Device (wait – am I confusing that with something?) to the President’s State of the Union address – but the most interesting baseball story of the day was the news that Andre Dawson will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer as a member of the Montreal Expos. For my friends who are Expos fans out there, I cannot be more happy. Major League Baseball’s abandonment of Montreal is still a fresh wound, and news like this is might be the only salve that they’ll get in the next 20 years.

Dawson, however, is less than excited. Citing the Cubs as “what really catapulted me to Hall of Fame status”, Dawson expressed his “disappointment” in the Hall’s decision and hoped that his preference “would carry a little more weight than it did.” When asked if he would put a Cubs hat on during his inauguration, he didn’t rule it out. He was quick to say that he would never do anything “that might be an embarrassment to someone or show someone up, that’s not my character.”

Dawson’s legacy with the Cubs seems almost exclusively to be wrapped around the 1987 season, Yes, I know he played five other years with the Cubs and went to the All-Star game in four of them, but it’s all based around that ’87 season, when he signed the blank contract to move to Chicago and then proceeded to blast 49 home runs and win the MVP award for the last place Cubs. It’s exactly the kind of thing that would make a fanbase fall in love with a player, so we can’t fault them for that.

But it got me wondering about what things were like that March of 1987. Was Dawson really as excited to move to the Cubs for a paltry $650,000 as everyone seems to remember? Could he even have been? Let’s take a look.

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From the March 8, 1987, Chicago Tribune, the Cubs’ prepared statement, written by club president Dallas Green, was given:

“…Andre and [agent] Dick [Moss] were willing to sacrifice salary and principle in 1987 to play in Wrigley Field for the Cubs. He was willing to bet that his production on the field would better his salary for 1988 and the future –something rather unusual in itself in these wild days of free agency. Our baseball people were able to convince Tribune Co. that we as an organization could overcome the obstacles we had presented to signing him and perhaps improve the team in 1987. The rest is up to Andre and the Cub players, who were so anxious to see this accomplished.

Andre has proven once again that he is a class person. I know he is a fine player and all of us in the organization welcome him with great enthusiasm.”

The Cubs were certainly excited to be getting a man at $500K guaranteed who had earlier turned down a 2-year, $2-million contract from Montreal. Ah, the joys of collusion.

And Dawson? From the same article, the statement from Dawson’s agent, Dick Moss, read:

“Early Thursday afternoon Dallas Green telephoned me and formally accepted our offer to sign with the Chicago Cubs for the 1987 season. He also at that time advised us of the terms of the acceptance. In our offer on Tuesday, 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.

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.

He will have the opportunity to receive additional amounts in award bonuses, but except for $50,000 for selection to the All-Star team, they probably will not be made. 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….”

Yeah, he sounds enthused. There’s also this quote, from the March 9, 1987, Montreal Gazette:

Andre Dawson has found a job, but yesterday the veteran outfielder didn’t sound too happy about the way his free-agency experiment came out.

Interrupted by a phone call as he packed his bags to fly to Arizona, Dawson said: “I have mixed feelings about the contract. I’m not too happy with the money, but I wanted to play in Chicago, so . . .”

“I didn’t think they’d make an offer, because I thought they didn’t want to be the first ones to sign a free agent,” Dawson said yesterday. “But since they did, I’m man enough to stick by it.

I know I’ll miss Montreal . . . but you gotta do what you gotta do. I don’t want to say a move was overdue, but with the problems I had the last couple years . . . I had the same salary the last six years, and then they offer me a pay cut . . .

It got so that towards the end of the season some of my own teammates told me it would be best that I make a change.”

Let’s face it: this was the era of collusion and no one was punished more by it than the dynamic duo from Montreal, Tim Raines and Andre Dawson. It is absolutely reasonable for Dawson to have been upset at the way the Cubs exploited his good faith offer that spring. But this revisionist history that the blank check was a happy compromise between the two parties, and that it signified the immediate beginning of a joyous era for the Hawk, is preposterous. It was only after Dawson took full advantage of 1987’s juiced balls and Wrigley’s comfy dimensions that things changed for the better, and, even then, it took a near-record-setting arbitration hearing and then a two-year contract for things to smooth over completely.

Andre Dawson has every reason – whether it be sentimental or monetary – to prefer a Cubs cap on his Hall of Fame plaque. But I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that the good vibes started the minute he signed that blank contract. In the end, though, the Hall made the right choice, and I’m glad to see it. Now it’d be nice to see Tim Raines join him in Cooperstown – if for no other reason than to know that one of Montreal’s three (or four – see Vlad Guerrero) potential Hall of Famers actually wanted to wear the red-white-and-blue “M” on his cap. We can only wait.

Larry Granillo

About Larry Granillo

Larry Granillo has been writing Wezen Ball since 2008 and has dealt with such touchy topics as Charlie Brown's baseball stats and Ferris Bueller's day off. In 2010, he got the bright idea to time every home run trot in baseball; he has been missing ever since.