COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — On a bittersweet day for Montreal Expos fans, Andre Dawson was inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Dawson, shy and introverted when we first met in 1979, gave an eloquent, moving speech, which centered on the theme “if you love the game, it will love you back,” in addition to performance-enhancing drugs, staying in school, and thank yous.
The good news for Expos fans is that they have two players in Cooperstown. Dawson joins Gary Carter, with Tim Raines in contention.
The bad news is Dawson’s induction reminds Expos fans of what they once had.
As MC George Grande introduced the roll call of the 47 living Hall of Famers on stage, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron received standing ovations as did the inductees: Former St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog, umpire Doug Harvey and Dawson.
Commissioner Bud Selig was booed.
When Herzog finished his speech saying “everyone’s asked me since December what it’s like to be a Hall of Famer, I said I won’t know until July 25th. Now, I know, being elected is like going to heaven before you die.”
Dawson was on deck. Expos fans began to chant “Let’s Go Expos, Let’s Go Expos.”
Dawson explained growing up all he ever wanted to do was “be like Aaron and Mays, now I get to shake their hand.”
“It is humbling and overwhelming to see the men on this stage, thank you for welcoming this rookie to your team,” Dawson told the crowd of about 15,000.
Dawson addressed the steroid era without mentioning the word:
“It’s a great game, it bothers me when I hear people knock baseball,” Dawson said. “Baseball falls victim to mistakes people make. Mistakes hurt the game and they’ve taken their toll. Individuals have chosen the wrong road and that is their legacy.
“Others have a chance to chose their path. Do not be lured to the dark side. This is a stain on the game, a stain being removed gradually,” Dawson said, and he was greeted by applause.
“You can’t get here skipping school by disrespecting parents, teachers, or coaches, you can’t get here by dropping out of society,” Dawson said to more applause.
The former Expos outfielder poked fun at others:
n He said he saw Tom Seaver at breakfast, “and Seaver threw a breakfast roll under my chin ... to make me feel comfortable.”
n Carter, who former teammate Warren Cromartie nicknamed “Teeths ... because when the cameras came on, that’s all you saw from him.”
n Goose Goosage, an ex-Cubs teammate, “the only man who could drink a case of beer on a Chicago-St. Louis flight and still be lights out the next night.”
n Pete Rose, who like Dawson always arrived early “only problem was, I had to listen to Pete talk for three hours.”
Dawson lobbied for former Cubs closer Lee Aruthur Smith to be inducted, as well as Raines.
He went way back with his thanks to high school coach Paul Comeau, Costa Kittles, coach with the Florida A&M Rattlers, Expos scout Mel Didier, now of the Jays, “who didn’t allow a knee brace to scare him off,” and invited him to a workout camp.
He mentioned former Expos coach Vern Rapp, manager Jim Fanning, infielder Dave Cash, outfielder Al Oliver, Hall of Fame first baseman Tony Perez and Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams, as well as Dr. Larry Coughlin and trainer Ron McClain, “who kept me on the field.”
He thanked the Expos for drafting him and giving him his start, “plus the experience of a new culture and playing across the border. Thank you Expo fans for your kindness and admiration.”
When Dawson mentioned Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, the former Expos owner, Montreal fans booed again.
Dawson thanked his wife Vanessa, and looked at his children Darius and Amber saying “in the eyes of the world you may be only two people, but in the eyes of two people, you are the world.”