Debate: Is Andre Dawson a Hall of Famer?

Andre Dawson won the NL MVP Award in 1987. Ron Vesely/MLB Photos/Getty Images

Andre Dawson fell short of reaching the 3,000-hit plateau, but he did hit more than 400 home runs and drove in over 1,500 runs.

In this, his sixth year on the ballot, will Dawson get enough votes to become part of the Class of 2008?

ESPN.com senior deputy editor Michael Knisley and ESPN.com correspondent John Shea discuss Dawson's Hall of Fame candidacy.

So I sent in my Hall of Fame ballot on Christmas Eve and it didn't include a vote for Andre Dawson. And guess what? When I got up Christmas morning and checked my reflection in the bathroom mirror, I didn't see Scrooge McDuck looking back at me. In fact, the mirror didn't even crack. I suppose you're going to tell me I'm the Grinch who stole the Hawk's holiday, but I have my reasons and I'm happy to share them. (I'll share them, that is, as long you don't make any wisecracks about my references to Dr. Seuss and a cartoon character in the first paragraph of a serious baseball debate.)

You sent in your ballot on Christmas Eve? With a week to go before the deadline? Quite decisive, you. Me? I'll fax it in New Year's Eve just in case George Mitchell announces he has another page of names he forgot to include in his report. Anyway, yeah, Andre Dawson. All-around player, excelling in many areas when healthy, and Cooperstown is the place that honors such five-toolmanship. Will he succeed? I could quote your Seuss and say, "Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent, guaranteed." But I doubt he'll come close to the required 75 percent after getting 56.7 last year. I still say he's deserving.

Wait. Did I say I'd be happy to share the reasons I didn't vote for him? Let me take that back. Actually, I hate having to defend a non-vote for a player who was as good as Dawson was.

You can't really win an argument by being negative about 438 home runs, a .482 career slugging percentage and eight Gold Gloves. So can we just say that we agree on Dawson's "five-toolmanship" and terrific statistical credentials? 'Cause as soon as we make that agreement, we can start talking about the real question: Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? To me, this debate is more about the Hall than it is about Dawson. I've always believed that a player should have been waaaaaaaaaaay head-and-shoulders above his peers to get my vote, and I just don't see enough separation between Dawson and the field.

He'd have much better numbers, too, if he had been on the field more. That was an issue with Dawson: health. But we can't judge him on what might have been. He's judged on what he did, and what he did was engage in a lot of torture to get his achy bones on the field as often as he did, one reason teammates loved him. Yes, he was dominant in his era. Not only -- as you mentioned -- did he have eight Gold Gloves, 438 homers and a .482 slugging percentage, but he had 2,774 hits and 1,591 RBIs. You don't see those combined numbers for folks not in Cooperstown and eligible to be there. Don't forget the 314 steals. He won the National League MVP once and finished second in the voting twice. Behind Willie Mays and Bobby Bonds, he was the next guy in the 300-300 club (homers and steals), and that ain't bad.

Look, I know he played in a different time with a different set of muscles (presumably an un-enhanced set o' muscles) and, for all we know, a different baseball -- remember that explanation for all the home runs in the late '90s? -- and I know it probably ain't entirely fair to use today's statistical standards to judge a guy who broke in 31 years ago.

But I'd suggest we should evaluate all his hits and home runs and RBIs against the number of years he played. Again, I don't want you to think I'm dissin' his talent or his accomplishments or his character or his willingness to play through pain, but those 438 home runs and 2,774 hits and 1,591 RBIs came over 21 seasons. I just pulled out my trusty calculator and let it do the math. That's an average of 132 hits, 76 RBIs and just under 21 home runs per year. Yes, he was hurt a lot. But in my book, those yearly averages make him a really, really, really good player. They don't make him a Hall of Famer.

For me, the most important ingredient when voting is this: When you saw him play, did you think he was a Hall of Famer or not? Cooperstown has the best Hall of Fame in sports because it's the toughest to get into, because not every borderline candidate is inducted. It could be argued that it's great not for who is in, but for who is not in.

In the case of Dawson, I always thought he was usually better than everyone else on the field, a guy who could take over a game, and dominate an era. Plus, what an intimidating fellow. I covered the Padres in '87, Dawson's MVP year with the Cubs. There was a game in July in which Dawson took an Eric Show fastball on the cheek that required 24 stitches. At first, he was motionless and couldn't charge the mound. So his teammates did for him. That's the ultimate respect.

Yeah, I hear you 'bout his teammates. I'm aware, too, of the pitch that Ryne Sandberg made for him during his induction speech a couple of years back, and I'm a big Sandberg fan. Look, I'm not gonna holler if The Hawk gets voted in. It ain't as if I think it'd be a travesty of a mockery of a sham or anything like that. But if I follow your logic, didn't you just argue that the Hall of Fame is what it is because players like Dawson don't get in?

That's a great point. The bigger the club, the less prestigious it is. That's why Hall of Fame players don't vote for anyone as part of the Veterans Committee. They ask themselves, "Why bring in Ron Santo and make it less exclusive?" Even Joe Morgan said he didn't want to lower the standards just to bring in somebody. But I don't think the standards would be lowered if Dawson were inducted.
Here's a guy who was the first man with 12 straight seasons of double-figure homers and steals. He'd be no embarrassment to Cooperstown. At the same time, like I said, I don't think he'll get in this year, if ever. Hey, I voted for Steve Garvey every year because he was the big guy on that great Dodgers team and did well on the national stage, in the postseason and All-Star Games, and played more consecutive games than anyone in NL history. But The Garv's not getting in. He's off the ballot. I don't think the Hall would have been worse off with Garvey. In fact, I think just the opposite. Ditto with Dawson.

I believe very strongly in the Hall's exclusivity, which is why I want to see some real separation between the players for whom I vote and the players for whom I don't vote. (Umm, is that sentence grammatically correct?)

There's a lot of subjectivity involved here, which is another thing that makes the process so flawed and yet so cool. Where would the drama be -- and so what would happen to the interest level -- if a player was guaranteed a place in the Hall of Fame once he met certain cut-and-dried objective statistical standards? (One thing that would happen is that you and I wouldn't be spending our Saturday debating the Dawson candidacy; he'd either be in or out, done deal.) To me, I can't vote for Dawson without also voting for Jim Rice and Dale Murphy and Tommy John and Bert Blyleven and Alan Trammell and a bunch of other players who were mighty good but not necessarily all-time greats. And I'm not ready to do that. I was back in Cooperstown this summer. I went through the Hall again. It's crowded in there already.

It is crowded. The truth about the steroid scandal will make sure it doesn't get overcrowded. By the way, you said earlier you averaged Dawson's hits, homers and RBIs and weren't floored by the numbers. I think that's a dangerous tactic. A lot of these guys who played beyond 20 years, at least in the pre-steroid era, were just hanging on. And with Dawson's knee problems, a result of playing on the concrete slab at Montreal's Olympic Stadium all those years, you could see he didn't always play full seasons. Look at some Hall of Famers. Willie Stargell played 21 years and had fewer hits and RBIs than Dawson. Tony Perez played 23 years and had fewer homers and hits. On the other hand, Dawson did what a lot of Hall of Famers didn't do. He ran the bases and played defense at an extremely high level, and there's nothing I appreciate more at the yard than someone who has an all-around game.

Yep, playing around with statistics like I did -- and like you just did in response -- is always dangerous. Our colleague Jim Caple over at Page 2 reminds us of that just about every week. My wife is fond of telling me in situations like this that comparisons are odious. We could find any number of Hall of Famers who, based solely on their statistics, shouldn't be in Cooperstown, too. And speaking of my wife … I didn't want to have to play this card, but the time has come: She is opposed to Dawson as a Hall of Famer, as well. She tells me I shouldn't vote for him. I for one, do not want to be responsible for the disturbance in the cosmos that surely will occur if I line up against her on this issue. That said, you get the last word here. Take one more shot at convincing me I'm wrong, but understand that you risk the wrath of my wife if you're successful.

For that reason alone, if I were you, I wouldn't vote for the man. (For the record, my wife's from Europe and never heard of Andre Dawson.) But tell your lovely bride that Dawson neither was accused of taking steroids or padding his stats by jumping leagues and becoming a DH (except for a brief spell in Boston before finishing out his career in the NL). On the 'roid front, it's worth mentioning your guy Sandberg again. He not only said of Dawson, "No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson. He's the best I've ever seen." Sandberg also said, "He did it the right way, the natural way." A telling statement. Hey, Dawson is no Mays. But I still believe he's at an elite enough tier that warrants a place in Cooperstown. I know I can't convince you, but I respect your point about exclusivity. That's why I don't usually vote for many guys, especially this year. Dawson happens to be one of the very few on my list. Again, that's what makes this Hall the best. He's that good, yet he's a long way from getting in.