It was just another day at the office for Andre Dawson. “Awesome Dawson,” as the man is known, hit two singles, a double, a triple, cracked a homer and robbed a San Francisco Giant of what should have been a routine single with a scorching throw to first. How could the Wrigley Field faithful help but give him a standing O, the Bleacher Bums go into a ragtag version of the Wave and somewhere, perhaps, George Will send out a cheer? Andre, the modest type, just tipped his hat. “I think a sort of love affair is developing,” he said later.
What’s not to love? As dismal as the last place Cubbies have been in this latest of so many lost seasons, that’s how brilliant Dawson has been. The closest the right fielder will get to the World Series this year will be the armchair next to his TV, but consolation may be in the offing. When the votes are counted next month, Dawson may find himself the National League’s Most Valuable Player. Playing Atlas, with the team on his shoulders, Dawson, 33, leads the league in homers (45) and runs batted in (126) and is second in game-winning RBIs (15). St. Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog says, “Without him, the Cubs might be in the [minor league] American Association.”
Having the right attitude has helped—in a word, Dawson is tough. Hit flush in the face by a 90-mph fastball thrown by San Diego’s Eric Show last July, Dawson lay bleeding and barely conscious. When, finally, he wobbled to his feet, he started for the mound on a mission of vengeance—only to be restrained by teammates. From a safe distance (via a written statement), Show apologized. “It was unintentional,” he wrote. “I’m sure I’ll regret it all my life.” Vowed Dawson: “I’ll make sure he does.”
A hard man, yes, and a proud one. It was pride, in fact, that brought the Miami-born Dawson to the Cubs after 10 years with the Montreal Expos. One of the game’s superlative outfielders, he is a four-time All-Star with an arm like the Grim Reaper—it cuts down all. In Montreal, Dawson also held team records for most runs, hits, doubles, triples and home runs. But after last season the Expos decided to cut his $1.16 million salary by $160,000. “They said they were offering me less because of my knee problems,” said Dawson, who hurt his left knee playing high school football. “I thought that was a lame excuse.”
Rather than abide this insult, Dawson gambled and cast himself on the free-agent market. When, astonishingly, no other team bid for his services (team owners possibly were trying to vitiate the free-agent market), he gave the Cubs a blank contract and said put in what’s fair; they did, and he signed for $500,000. The deal was one of the shrewdest in memory—for both sides. The Cubs got Dawson’s services at a bargain-basement price, and Andre got intimate—read small—Wrigley Field, where he has a .346 lifetime batting average and the walls always seem to be beckoning. Even better, he got to play on Wrigley’s cushiony natural grass as opposed to Montreal’s cementlike artificial turf, which had exacted a painful toll on his knee. “It was important for me at 33 to play on natural grass,” he says. Given his spectacular season, he will doubtless be hoping now to explore the upper limits of the Cubs’s generosity. Says his agent, Dick Moss: “What would be appropriate next year would be for the Cubs to offer me a blank contract and we’ll fill in the numbers.”
For the moment, of course, Andre can simply savor this season with Vanessa, his wife of eight years. They live in an apartment while in Chicago and spend the off-season in their condo in Miami. Since moving to Chicago, Vanessa reports her husband is “much more relaxed.” And why not? The warmth of the Bleacher Bums has been positively tonic. “I had more applause here in the first month than I did in a decade in Montreal,” says Dawson. “I’m overwhelmed.” So is the opposition.