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OTTAWA LYNX




Dawson was a baseball machine
By RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

Andre Dawson talks to a reporter after a practice in this March 7, 1987 file photo. The former Montreal Expos star headlines this year's Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductions. (CP Photo/Paul Chiasson)

Andre Dawson didn't consider himself a home run hitter, yet he ripped 438 big-league roundtrippers.

The all-star Expos outfielder spent 11 years playing on an artificial surface in Montreal he felt was destroying his knees, yet he stole 314 bases and lasted 21 seasons.

When Dawson finally got back to old-time baseball -- natural grass and day games -- by signing with Chicago in 1987, he slammed 49 homers and won the National League MVP for a Cubs team that finished in last place.

One more? The Miami native finally called it quits in 1996 after his second season with Florida -- and the hometown Marlins went on to win the World Series the next year.

Still, many say the biggest contradictions surrounding The Hawk is that he hasn't yet swooped into Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

For now, Dawson will soar into Canada's version of the ball hall Saturday in St. Marys along with umpire Jim McKean, former Toronto Blue Jays executive Peter Hardy and ex-Boston Red Sox owner J. J. Lannin.

Old teammates like Tony Perez and Steve Rogers also will be there. Former Montreal manager and GM Jim Fanning, who watched the young, six-foot-three prospect develop into a baseball machine, expects to be there.

Fanning thinks Dawson is a "can't miss" for Cooperstown one day. He points to Gary Carter being in both halls and said, "You can't ignore Andre's numbers.

"In all my time with the Expos, Andre was the most talented player I saw. He was a supreme physical being. He was a mystery to our doctors. They couldn't believe how low his body fat was.

"He was the strong, silent type. I don't think he ever read about himself in the newspapers but he carried a big club and was well-respected by his teammates."

In Montreal, Dawson arrived at the ballpark every day at 1 p.m. for a night game so therapists could work on his creaky knees and get him ready. His knees made him perfectly suited for the designated hitter role, but he only spent a couple of seasons in the DH-friendly American League with the Boston Red Sox.

For the most part, Dawson patrolled the outfield in the National League and was handy enough to win eight Gold Gloves. They came at a price: The 49-year-old has endured 12 knee surgeries (five on his right, seven on his left) and is seriously thinking about replacements.

"He never wanted to come out of the lineup," Fanning said. "You talk about five-tool guys in baseball, the only guy right now who can do the things Andre could is maybe Vladimir Guerrero.

"Andre was constantly stretching doubles into triples and he could steal bases at will. He could hit, run and throw. He had all kinds of power.

"His knees bugged him but I don't think that limited him. We still saw the best of Andre."

Fanning remembers manager Bobby Cox giving him a call from Venezuela in the mid-1970s, desperate for an outfielder to help complete a playoff run.

"I told Bobby all we had was this young, hot prospect named Dawson and he said, 'I'll take him,' " Fanning said.

"But I didn't think Andre was ready for Venezuela yet. He had only played rookie ball in Lethbridge and in the instructional league.

"I hedged a little bit and we called him in to ask him about it."

The young Dawson, however, wanted to go and ended up playing in every game, including the final.

"They had trouble in the stands and it overflowed onto the field," Fanning said. "It's a game that never got finished and Andre was at the plate when it happened. He's still at bat in that one."

Tomorrow: Peter Hardy

CANADIAN BASEBALL HALL OF FAME

What: 2004 induction ceremony for Andre Dawson, Jim McKean, J. J. Lannin and Peter Hardy

When: 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Marys. $10 autograph line starts at 1:30 p.m.

More information: (519) 284-1838 or online at www.baseballhalloffame.ca