Bodley: Hawk's Hall trek began with family
Newest inductee recalls mother, grandmother on big day
NEW YORK -- The Hawk stood over his mother's grave on Wednesday morning as a bright Florida sun splashed down on him and the lush green cemetery grass.
A cold front had just passed through the Miami area and with it came biting 50-degree temperatures that he really didn't feel.
Andre Dawson had a strong sense he'd finally be elected to baseball's Hall of Fame later in the day, and after working out in a gym, he went to the cemetery to share his innermost thoughts with the woman he called "my best friend."
Dawson, the brilliant five-tool Major Leaguer who'd previously come up short in voting for enshrinement in Cooperstown, N.Y., made it Wednesday on his ninth try. With 75 percent of the vote needed for election, he garnered 77.9 percent and will be inducted along with manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey on July 25.
When I think of the macho image most players project and then see somebody like Dawson with all the armor removed and reduced to a mere sensitive man, there's a warmth difficult to define.
Thursday was Dawson's mother's birthday. She would have been 71, but she died in May 2006.
"I just wanted to thank her," Dawson said Thursday. "I went to her grave site. I prayed and thanked her for the job she did as a mother, father and big sister to me. She probably was my best friend."
Tears rolled down his face as he entered the cemetery and thought back to the years his mom, Mattie Brown, and grandmother, Eunice Taylor, who's buried close by, did in raising eight children without a father in the house.
"I told her, 'I love you. I miss you. I wish you were alive so I could tell you that,'" Dawson said. "It was an emotional time for me. My grandmother's grave wasn't that far away and another uncle of mine -- Theodore Roosevelt Taylor -- who played with the Pittsburgh Pirates' Double-A organization was there.
"I just said my thank-yous and shared how much I loved them and the influence they had in my life and what probably was going to occur later on in the day. I just hoped they'd be smiling down if it did happen and be proud of me."
Dawson, despite the eight years of disappointment, always said if you're truly a Hall of Famer, you'll be in the Hall of Fame some day.
"My mother never got to see me play a game in person for fear that I would get hurt while she was in attendance," Dawson said. "She was with me during the early years of the Hall of Fame process. She told me just to stay faithful that it was inevitable to happen and be ready when it happens."
You can talk about the 438 home runs, the 1987 MVP, the eight Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger Awards, but none of that might have happened had it not been for Grandma Taylor.
"Probably the greatest influence on my career was my grandmother," Dawson said. "As a teenager I had an opportunity to try out with the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy. I was one of about 60 kids and one of five invited back the third and final day. I was searching how I'd explain it to my grandmother if I was signed.
"You'd play baseball in the afternoons and evenings, and go to school in the morning. My grandmother didn't want to hear any parts of that. She said, 'No, you're going to college.' I really couldn't quite figure out why she took that approach.
"But after I was in college [at Florida A&M], she'd write me and explain her reasoning -- that if you have talent and ability, God will bless you. She said, 'Get on your knees and take him with you. Someone will notice.' That meant a lot. It propelled me through my college career and fueled me to believe in the talent that I had."
Dawson, 55, might never have made the Major Leagues had it not been for the faith his grandmother had in him and he might not be prepared to enter the Hall of Fame if it weren't for the former Cubs general manager Dallas Green. The Hawk had some of his greatest seasons, including his MVP campaign in '87, during six seasons with the Cubs.
Dawson, who's knees were ailing after 10 years on Montreal's artificial turf, became a free agent following the 1986 season. He and agent Dick Moss were having difficulty finding a suitable team with a natural-grass field interested in the outfielder.
"I asked Moss what it was going to take to put Montreal behind, stay in the NL and move forward," Dawson says. "I said, 'Sometimes I feel like I could play this game without being paid. It's not about the money.' That's how much I love the game."
Dawson remembers offering two teams -- the Cubs and Braves -- a blank contract.
"The Cubs were my first choice, but when we visited the Cubs at the start of Spring Training, Dallas Green didn't know what to make of the blank contract. He looked at it and said, 'What is this?' I said, 'Fill in what you think I'm worth.' He went on to say he had younger players he had to provide an opportunity for. I said, 'You're two years removed from the playoffs and you're not going to win with young players.' I told him we'd leave the contract on the table for 24 hours and we went home."
Green was in a bind.
"I was out of money and the Tribune Company wasn't going to allow me to add to our payroll," Green said.
Green called Dawson and said $500,000 was the best offer he could make -- a $700,000 cut in pay from The Hawk's 1986 salary. Dawson ultimately accepted and had his finest year.
Now, he's finally headed to the Hall of Fame.
"It was well worth the wait," Dawson said.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.