Dawson takes his place with greats

When former Cubs star outfielder Andre Dawson stepped to the podium Sunday afternoon in Cooperstown, NY, the theme of his Hall of Fame acceptance speech was similar to the one former teammate Ryne Sandberg used in his 2005 induction.

At the time, Sandberg talked about ‘respecting the game, and the game will respect you’.

Dawson talked to me after his acceptance speech about what integrity means to him.

“For me, you’re blessed with a talent and with an ability,” Dawson said. “I believe you go out there and display that.”

Dawson relayed advice that he had gotten from former Cubs manager Don Zimmer some 20 years ago.

“I learned a lot from [him],” Dawson said. “All he asked was to report on time, not to disrespect the uniform or the fans. And to me, that wasn’t asking a lot. That was simply stating, ‘Have a little bit of decency, credibility and integrity for four hours while you play the game the right way, the way it’s supposed to be played’. And then at the end of the day, you look in the mirror and you ask yourself, ‘Did you give it your all?’ “

Certainly nobody ever had to ask Dawson if he gave it his all. Numerous knee surgeries and two knee replacements are testament to a man who gave more of himself to the game, his teammates and the fans than anyone could ever imagine or expect.

The Andre Dawson I knew would meet me two hours after a ballgame to talk, just so I had the quotes that I needed from him about the game. Dawson would always ice his knees and have treatment for at least an hour after each game, so he’d tell me to go do the rest of my work, and that he’d stay to talk to me after he was through with his treatment.

I asked him today why he did things like that.

“I believe part of the job, part of the dedication to the job, was to talk to the media so they could relay my feelings to the fans. That was a part of my responsibility to the job.”

Like Sandberg’s great speech in 2005, Dawson’s speech had a theme to it as well.

“If you love the game, it will love you back,” Dawson stated numerous times during his 15-minute speech. Nobody loved the game more than that skinny kid from Florida who was signed by the Montreal Expos back in 1975.

Not surprisingly, Dawson had a message for the steroids users, and the players in the game that want to take shortcuts to greatness.

“There’s nothing wrong with the game of baseball,” Dawson said. “Baseball will fall victim from time to time because of the mistakes people make. It’s not pleasant, and it’s not right. Those [drug] mistakes have hurt the game. Individuals have chosen the wrong road, and have chosen that as their legacy. Others still have a chance to choose theirs. Do not be lured to the dark side.”

Dawson’s message was crystal clear. Work hard, give 100% and stay away from a drug-induced career.

“It’s a stain on the game,”Dawson said. “A stain that is gradually being removed. That’s the people, not the game. There’s nothing wrong with the game. Never has been.”

Dawson put blood, sweat and tears into the game that he loved. And on Sunday, standing in front of 49 other Hall of Famers, his friends, his family and thousands of baseball fans, the game loved Hall of Famer Andre Dawson back.