— You know Andre Dawson played in a different era than today's revenue-infested major leagues when you hear his blank-contract story again.
The scenario, for those who don't know or remember: Collusion-era 1987, Dawson at 32, already with a Rookie of the Year award, two MVP runner-up finishes, six of his eight Gold Glove awards, three of his four Silver Slugger awards, and three of his eight All-Star Game selections on his resume.
What would that list of accomplishments be worth in today's free-agent market? Back then, Dawson went to the Chicago Cubs, blank contract in hand, after the Montreal Expos offered him a $200,000 pay cut from his 1986 salary of $1.05 million to stay put.
"It was literally a slap in the face,'' Dawson said of the Expos' offer. "And I just said, 'you know what, if I'm going to have to take a cut in pay, I'll go somewhere where I know the game will be fun again. I do feel at that particular point that free agents really were being forced to re-sign with their original clubs. So we felt the only way a team would listen is if we just gave them a contract and let them fill in the blanks.
"We went to Chicago first and gave them the blank contract and told them it is what it is. We're going to leave it on the table for 24 hours, let your legal people evaluate it, do what you feel you have to do with it, and get back to us as soon as you can.
"I got a call from (Cubs general manager) Dallas Green the next day, with a $500,000 offer, which meant an additional $500,000 cut in pay from what Montreal was offering, and I told him, 'It's more about pride and principle, and I'll accept it. I was man enough to present this to you, and I'm going to stand up to it.'"
Best thing that ever happened in the baseball career of the man everybody calls Hawk. You probably know the rest: Dawson went onto an MVP season for a last-place team — leading the league with 49 homers, 137 RBI and 351 total bases — and five more high-quality seasons as a Cub.
And on Sunday, Dawson stood among the game's greats in Cooperstown. There's a plaque with his face on it — nothing left blank this time. And if you want to quibble with his just-above-the-minimum 77 percent approval rate by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, you're still not listening to what Ryne Sandberg — Dawson's longtime teammate in Chicago — had to say exactly five years ago.
"No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more, or did it better than Andre Dawson,'' Sandberg said during his acceptance speech. "He's the best I've ever seen. I watched him win the MVP award for a last-place team in 1987, and it was the most unbelievable thing I've seen in baseball. He did it the right way; the natural way. And he did it in the field, on the bases, and in every way. And I hope he will stand up here someday.''
What took so long? You have to go back to Montreal for a big reason why. The National League was filled with cookie-cutter stadiums and artificial surfaces back then, but none was regarded as tougher to play on than Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Dawson spent the first 10-plus years of his career on that surface, and knee problems that began with a high-school football injury only worsened as time dragged on.
In terms of missed games, there was an average of only 13 per year during his Montreal years. But there's no way of knowing exactly how much Dawsons' creaky, cranky knees drained from his still-Hall-worthy numbers. All you can do is take into account what he had to go through:
"The wear and tear over those 10 years, favoring that one particular knee, caused me to wear out the other knee,'' Dawson said. "And as it turned out, I had, I think, eight surgeries total by the time I was out of Montreal. The differences for me were like night and day once I did get on grass.
"I got to the point where it was more or less bone on bone. A lot of degenerative, arthritic conditions manifested themselves, and my preparation was basically to stay off my feet as much as possible away from the ballpark, to get on a physical conditioning program both during and in the off-season, and to pay really close attention to keeping my weight down.
"I almost quit after my fourth because of a fracture in one of my knees, and it wasn't really noticed until about two months into the season. One thing I'm proud of during my tenure in Montreal was I never went on the disabled list until I suffered a hamstring pull in my 10th and final year there. But those years of playing on turf really did a number as far as the wear and tear is concerned.''
The Wrigley years — plus two each on grass surfaces in Boston and Florida — eased the physical burdens enough for Dawson to accumulate 20-plus years of big-league service time, and finish at .279 with 438 homers, 1,591 RBI and 2,774 hits. But if you're just looking at the offensive numbers, you're missing the point.
"For me, I always wanted to be a (five-tool) player, and I didn't want offense to overshadow defense,'' Dawson said. "Eight Gold Gloves are what stand out more for me. I always felt you could win a ballgame with a play late in the game, or early in the game, just the same way you could win it with a hit in the ninth inning.''
Still, the number that most worked against his election was a career .311 on-base percentage. And so it took nine years on the ballot — during which recognition of the Steroids Era's inflated numbers bubble occurred — for Dawson to top the 75-percent approval standard. Now that the wait is over, Dawson says he understands.
"I stepped into the plaque gallery, I saw the history, I saw the artifacts,'' Dawson said about a recent orientation visit to Cooperstown. "I was in awe. You're talking about the elite to ever play the game. The criteria seems to change on occasion, but now I know why it's so tough to get into the Hall of Fame — because it's a very, very, very sacred Hall of Fame, and the writers really, really protect it.''
A: Ten years is a long time in baseball — during which most every team will go through good and not-so-good periods of drafting and developing players. Three franchises that stand out recently are the Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers and Colorado Rockies.
The Twins have turned into a higher revenue/high payroll team with the opening of their new stadium, but their long run of success in the AL Central has been due to drafting and developing their own talent — names like Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, etc.
The Rockies follow a mid-market model, and often put an entire lineup of homegrown talent on the field — Ubaldo Jimenez, Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, Jhoulys Chacin, Chris Iannetta, Todd Helton, Clint Barmes, Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Stewart, Ryan Spilborghs, Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith all qualify.
The Rangers are winning the AL West in part due to some tremendous young homegrown talent — Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Julio Borbon, Tommy Hunter — and used another (Justin Smoak) to help land Cliff Lee in a deal.
If you had asked this question a couple of years ago, the Angels would have been one of the first teams mentioned. Their run of success in the Mike Scioscia era definitely has been keyed by homegrown talent, but they have hit a little bit of a lull recently.
When you're promoting 30-ish journeymen such as Cory Aldridge and Paul McAnulty from Triple-A to help your big-league roster, and can't fill bullpen spots with quality arms from within your organization, you know the upper tier of your system is void of top prospects.
That said, watch for outfielder Mike Trout — yes, another Angels' first-round pick out of high school. He was the youngest player (19) in the recent Futures Game, will be in the big leagues by 2011 for certain, and many scouts believe he will be a star real soon.
A: Finley's A's did indeed win three consecutive World Series (1972-74) — the only franchise to do so besides the New York Yankees (1998-2000), (1949-53), (1936-39).
However, by my count, the Hall of Fame list only includes Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers — certainly an impressive group, nonetheless.
Finley's innovation was a mixed bag — everything from having players wear white shoes, paying players to grow moustaches, employing a player whose sole duty was pinch-running, promoting the use of orange baseballs and the designated hitter, and perhaps his most-brilliant idea that wasn't adopted — advocating for all players to be free agents every year (in theory flooding the market and holding down salaries).
But when you talk about Finley's 21-year tenure as A's owner, you can't ignore the warts — namely, overbearing micromanagement and frugality, and an adversarial relationship with his players. And those warts are what have kept him out of the Hall of Fame, as many in the game disagreed with and even despised him.
The Mike Andrews incident in the 1974 World Series was inexcusable — forcing Andrews to falsely sign an affadavit saying that he was injured after committing two errors in a Game 2 loss. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn overruled the move and reinstated Andrews to the World Series roster.
Then-star outfiedler Ken 'Hawk' Harrelson was released after critizing Finley over the firing of Alvin Dark (and went onto sign with Boston), and Finley threatened to send stars Jackson and Vida Blue to the minors at different point during contract disputes.
And you can't forget Finley's attempt to dismantle the A's in 1976 by selling Fingers and Joe Rudi to Boston and Blue to the Yankees. The sales were voided by Kuhn, who used his 'best interest in baseball' powers that Finley challenged in court (and lost).
A: The Yankees won't be giving up on Joba Chamberlain any time soon, I'm sure. He's a part of their short-term future, even though he hasn't yet met expectations in the setup role.
But that doesn't mean the Cardinals won't be active in the trade market. I think you'll see them add pitching — most likely a starter, as Brad Penny's comeback has stalled, and the No. 4-5 starters currently are Jeff Suppan and converted reliever Blake Hawksworth.
They'd love to trade for Roy Oswalt — who wouldn't? — but the price is steep in terms of money (close to $40 million if Oswalt's 2012 option is picked up) and prospects, so we'll see how things unfold leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.
The bullpen has performed very well — in the top four in the NL in ERA. But the six core relievers — Ryan Franklin, Jason Motte, Kyle McClellan, Mitchell Boggs, Denys Reyes and Trever Miller — have been used extensively. So that part of the staff also could get a boost.