Dawson battled pain for 21 seasonsThe former Expos great went into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame with three others.
By RYAN PYETTE, Free Press Sports Reporter
ST. MARYS -- After examining high schooler Andre Dawson's damaged knees, doctors told the young prospect he'd be lucky to play baseball for four more years. But the Hawk's wings weren't about to be clipped so soon.
The determined outfielder carried on for a superb 21-year major league career -- including 10 seasons as arguably the best player to wear the Montreal Expos uniform -- and earned induction into the Canadian Baseball hall of fame yesterday in St. Marys.
Dawson was honoured along with Montreal native and longtime American League umpire Jim McKean, plus two deceased inductees: former Toronto Blue Jays chairperson Peter Hardy of London and ex-Boston Red Sox owner J.J. Lannin, who grew up in Lac Beauport, Que.
"It's an overwhelming feeling. It's an honour that means even more than winning the (National League) MVP in 1987 (with the Chicago Cubs)," the 49-year-old Dawson said. "It means I had an impact on this country. I'm thrilled that I'm here and I'm not even thinking about Cooperstown.
"This is great."
It wasn't always so great for Dawson, who first injured his knees playing football. He was a defensive back in high school and a teammate got pushed on top of him awkwardly.
Since then, the Hawk has endured 12 knee surgeries and is seriously contemplating getting replacements.
Two hours before and after every game he played, he put in the time for a whirlpool treatment, heat, ice, taping and a fierce exercise routine to counter the knee pain.
"It was difficult to do at first but it had to be done," he said. "Later on, it became a routine, just something you did to prepare to play the next game. It becomes part of your life.
"They said I would play four years and I lasted 20."
Despite the pain, Dawson didn't go on the disabled list until his 10th and final year in Montreal -- for a hamstring pull. He put up numbers good enough for any Hall of Fame, including 438 career home runs, eight Gold Gloves, eight All-Star game appearances, an MVP and an NL rookie-of-the-year award.
"When you play from your heart, you can overcome anything," Expos teammate and longtime friend Tony Perez said yesterday while introducing Dawson. "Andre's knees never hurt when he was out on the field playing baseball."
Interestingly enough, Dawson's pro career started at Montreal's Pioneer League farm team in Lethbridge, Alta.
"I remember having to take a six-seater prop plane from Calgary to Lethbridge, it was bouncing like a roller coaster and I was scared to death we weren't going to make it."
He made it Lethbridge and, 28 years later, all the way to St. Marys.
Jim McKean, a fine athlete who attended umpire's school in Florida in 1970 on a whim after his Canadian Football League quarterbacking career ended, said his first preseason game behind the plate featured the St. Louis Cardinals with the legendary Bob Gibson on the mound and current Yankees manager Joe Torre behind the plate.
"Here's a guy used to calling peewee and sandlot games and now I'm on the same field as these guys," McKean said. "I told Joe I didn't have any experience and he said he'd take care of me. The first pitch, I let out a big 'Strike' call and Joe told me he thought it was outside.
"It became the honour system. But I think I got better as I went along."
He did well enough to call games for 28 years and is now a Major League Baseball supervisor of umpires.
Peter Hardy, another in a long line of Blue Jays executives in the hall, was represented by his widow Dorothy and his grandson Harry Gundy.
Christopher Tunstall, who resides in Asheville, N.C., accepted the induction on behalf of his great-grandfather Lannin and said it was the high point of many years spent researching his interesting relative's life.
"When Tom (Canadian ball hall president) Valcke called me after the hall of fame vote this year, all he said was, 'J.J.'s in' and tears started rolling down my eyes," Tunstall said. "Because it was so long ago, I found J.J.'s story had been pushed to the margins and largely forgotten.
"I wanted to keep it alive."
It's a rousing tale of a 14-year-old orphan from Quebec who set off to a better life in Massachusetts, became a hotel bellhop working for $3 a day, plus tips, and went on to became a wealthy investor and Red Sox owner.
During his three-year tenure, Lannin revolutionized baseball's farm system, brought Babe Ruth to Boston and won two World Series. After he sold the team, new owner Harry Frazee shipped Ruth to New York and the Red Sox have not won a title since.
"I run a youth program and I use J.J.'s story all the time -- he's an inspiration and he was a great humanitarian from humble roots," Tunstall said. "Now that he's in the Canadian hall of fame, I say the curse of the Bambino can finally be put to rest."
As a living example, Tunstall threw out the opening pitch at Fenway Park last week -- and the Red Sox won 9-2.