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January 7, 2013 at 8:22 pm ET
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Hangin’ with the Hawk: A B&C Interview with Hall of Famer Andre Dawson

Andre Dawson was one of just three players to have blasted over 400 (438) home runs and swiped more than 300 bases (314) over the span of their major league careers. The other two? Willie Mays and Barry Bonds.

Safe to say, the man earned his spot at Cooperstown in 2010.

Dawson was an All-Star eight times, won eight Glod Gloves¬†and¬†was¬†voted¬†Most Valuable Player of the National League in 1987 for the last place Cubs on the strength of a career-high 49 un coup de circuits, as they¬†called them in his early days¬†in Montreal, where then-analyst Duke Snider called the Dawson, Warren Cromartie and Ellis Valentine outfield the best he’d ever seen.

Dawson published a book at the beginning of the 2012 season, and this morning was good enough to spend¬†a few minutes chatting about whether he feels Expos teammate Tim Raines belongs in the Hall,¬†why some All-Stars don’t deserve the title,¬†laying down the law¬†with former Marlins diva Hanley Ramirez and why any Miami fans would bother with their club in 2013.

To you, the loyal and learned B&C reader, we are proud to present Andre Nolan Dawson:

What led to your decison to write a book? And can you elaborate a bit on your message “If you love the game, it will love you back?”

I had a written a book previously when I was with the Red Sox, and this is kind of a sequel to the first book. It encapuslates a bit more about the second half of my career, post-career, the Hall of Fame, I went a little more in depth into my early childhood and the people who were responsible for my upbringing and who set the path for me. Then I talked a little bit about the years leading up to the Hall of Fame and then eventually being elected into the Hall of Fame. If you love this game, it’s just for me,¬†a no-brainer. The game was my life, and as I said in my Hall of Fame speech, if you love this game, it will love you back, and I think over the course of my career, longevity came to be important and as much as I put into going out there and making every effort to enjoy each and every year, I played the game with love and passion, and the game rewarded me by loving me back.

Point blank, do you feel Tim Raines deserves a plaque alongside you at Cooperstown?

Most definitely. I hope this is the year. I know it’s a tough hurdle to cross when you are in the fifties percentage-wise (48.7%), to garnish another 25% of the vote¬†is a huge jump, but it has, I think, happened in the past. For Timmie, my concern is the guys I played with in my era, who I felt had an impact on the game, and though Timmie was a teammate and a good friend of mine, deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because he was the resemblance of Rickey Henderson in the National League and was a catalyst for just about every team he played for. At the end of the day, I think he far exceeded what it takes from the lead-off spot to get into the Hall of Fame.

How close were you to playing with George Brett and Frank White on those great Royals teams of the late ’70s and early ’80s?

It’s tough to say because the Royals had their Academy and decided to sign me to a contract, but my grandmother probably would have shot it down, I don’t think she realized that I was going to get the chance to go to school and play baseball with the Academy. She was real, real big on education and she wanted that to be my first priority, but as it turned out, because of the football injury my senior year in high school (torn knee ligament), the Royals didn’t feel that I ran the 60 (yard dash) fast enough, so they elected not to sign me.

One of funniest stories from your book had you on the wrong end of some mistaken identity in Pittsburgh. Could you share that story with us?

(Chuckles) We had just landed for a Sunday day game in Pittsburgh just before dark, and right across from the hotel was a city park where they were having a concert, and a few of the guys and I decided to go across the street and see what it was all about. We were confronted with this guy, who looked along the lines of a wanderer or the hippie-type, he stood right in front of us, he looked at me and said “Well, I’ll be. If it isn’t Lionel Richie.” And my teammates got a really big kick out of that, because those were the days when I kind of had the shag going, when afros were in and I had the long hair going, so they ribbed me about that for many years.

When you speak about your time in Chicago, there’s almost a reverance for Wrigley and the Cubs fans, can you share the connection you feel so strongly with that organization?

For me, they spirited the second half of my career. The way they embraced me when I went to Arizona to sign with the Cubs, brought me to relax and made the game fun again. Playing at Wrigley Field for half the season, on a natural playing surface, and just having the support of those fans, that really fueled me on the days when I did not look forward to going to the ballpark. And there are Cubs fans all around the country, so everywhere I traveled I ran into Cubs fans. Just the thank yous for coming to Chicago that first year was really overwhelming, and like I said, I really enjoyed those six years there and felt that was the best time of my career. I played ten years in Montreal, I had some good years there, but the astroturf (at Olympic Stadium) on a daily basis caused a lot of wear and tear that a lot of times you felt like you weren’t going to be able to make it. But playing on that natural playing surface, I just felt that much better, and then to have the support¬† of the fans, that meant everything.

Having played through 12 knee surgeries, you stated that when it came to the All-Star Game, you felt¬† that you “owed” the fans to play so that they could see the players they had elected starters. Reggie Jackson alluded to that when we spoke with him in 2010, as well, saying he looked at it as an “obligation.” What has changed regarding the players’ perspective on the midsummer classic, in your estimation?

I don’t think it’s everybody, but players make so much money today that it’s really not that important to them. To be selected and mentioned in the same breath as the elite playing the game at the time, that’s a huge honor. And all due respect, you owe it to the game, you owe it to the fans, you owe it to your organization to represent your organization if you’re voted in. But the mindset of some of the players is different today, and that’s the sad thing about it, because in retrospect if you don’t want to play the game, then you shouldn’t be looked at as a player that was an All-Star, but it goes on your resume anyway. That’s the biggest difference I see, players make so much money that they just take the attitude that they’d rather take those three days off. Younger players are a little bit different, they cherish that moment, they cherish getting to the big leagues and then to be looked at as as All-Star. It’s a golden opportunity and moment for them, and they look forward to it.

As a special assistant with the Marlins, can you shed a bit more light on what transpired in Miami a year ago with the Ozzie Guillen situation, the lackluster play on the field and ensuing fire sale (which was not the first in club history)? What reason do Fish fans have to come out and support this club?

I think finishing last in the division back-to-back years, the Marlins made great efforts to save their money and invest it into the new ballpark, but it just didn’t work out. The money was supposed to get Ozzie, who was available at the time and it didn’t really work out. The Ozzie Guillen situation didn’t go over real well in the community, especially based on where the ballpark sat, and everything imaginable that could have gone wrong, went wrong, and it was just a disaster of a season. Yes, there have been fire sales in the past, but (the Marlins) made¬† a business decision that I think everyone was on board with because if you finish in last place and you have this huge payroll, you’ve got to start thinking “Well, what direction do we go in now?” I think the fact that we didn’t anticipate going out and starting from scratch and completely rebuilding, it’s a tough pill for the fans to swallow, but it is what it is, and hopefully they’ll be patient with what we’re trying to put together and we’re trying to accomplish. It’s going to be a tough go at it for a couple of years, but I think we’re going in the right direction, we’re trying to the whole concept and attitude and get back to where the organization was a few years ago, which meant ball players that were hungry, ball players that wanted to play, ball players that had character, not just names and individuals. That was when we had the most success in the past, and what we’re trying to get back to.

In your book, you alluded to a conversation you and Tony Perez were asked to have with then-Marlins star Hanley Ramirez — your in English, Perez’s in Spanish — paint us a picture of that discussion.

We tried real quickly to nip in the bud what had transpired the night before. I was in Las Vegas and wasn’t there at the game, so I wasn’t real aware of the situation with Hanley and (then Marlins manager) Fredi Gonzalez, but I caught a red eye back, arrived at seven in the morning, took a cab home, took a shower and got to the ballpark just before a one o’clock game. I could see quiet in the clubhouse and on the television, the problem had flashed across the board, and management was thinking about discipline and not letting Hanley go on the upcoming road trip. So I said to Tony, “Let’s go see what we can do,” and try to rectify the problem. We took him aside in the strength and conditioning room and I just said some things to him that he probably didn’t like. I told him “I’m not here to say what I think you want to hear, but I will say this: No one is bigger than the game, and this game will humble you in the best of ways. You have an obligation when you walk through that door to this organizaiton, to this uniform, to the fans, so don’t ever think that this game won’t humble you. Right now, you think those 24 guys support you and have your back, but they’re laughing at you, because you know what, they see the writing on the wall. If anything, you owe your manager an apology. You need to go do it, and you need to do it now before it’s too late, because you need to find a way to make this thing go away, and it’s not looking real pretty right now.” (Hanley) kind of looked off into space, he looked a little aloof, so I don’t know if it went in one year and out the other, but at that point Tony Perez started to talk to him in Spanish, and when Tony finished, we said, you know what, put this behind you and go out and do what needs to be done and let’s get our act together.

With the Hall of Fame class of 2013 to be announced on Wednesday, where do you fall on those who used, or were suspected of using performance enhancing drugs — all in or all out? Or do you feel there is a middle ground where some deserve access while others don’t?

That’s a really gray area right now. What’s coming up is a whole different era, and the way the fans are going to relate to these individuals who are coming up for the Hall of Fame. I think the voters have the right idea, whether they’re going to punish these guys or not remains to be seen, but at some point, something may give, or maybe it won’t, but I think they have to let this thing play itself out. The handling of it, by not voiting these players in, whether it’s the right thing to do, maybe it is because the rules were broken, as was the integrity of the game. I think a lot of this stuff was done¬† for selfish reasons, to garnish the big contracts at the time, and the history of the game was destroyed and there has to be consequences for that. I don’t care if you were a Hall of Fame before you resigned to (taking PEDs), the fact of the matter is you broke the rules, and there are consequences. Maybe somewhere down the road all will be forgiven, but in the meantime, you have to let this thing play itself out.

It’s coming up on the year anniversary of Gary Carter’s death, can you talk a bit about the the relationship you had with Gary and what he meant to you as a teammate and a friend?

I think about him often and I miss him. We got closer, actually, post-career, even though we were teammates all those years, it’s really a different relationship once you retire because you’re not in each other’s company, sorry to say, as much. It was devastating when he was diagnosed with brain cancer, to see the wear and tear over the months that followed, and the toll it took on his family and his friends. He is indeed missed, he was one of those individuals that I knew more of, and got a lot closer to once we retired.

You’ve been involved in the Montreal Baseball Project along with former Expos mate Cromartie. How are things coming along on the getting baseball back to Montreal front?

It’s kind of died down a little bit because of the offseason, but we intend to follow-up on it the early part of this year. I tip my cap to Warren, I know it’s an uphill battle, what he’s trying to accomplish, it’s going to take a lot of work. It’s almost like you’re putitng yourself up¬†against the inevitable, and chances are it actually may not happen. I’ve¬†always said, if you have a team, the one thing you don’t want to do is lose it because you may never get it again. But he’s making a valiant effort, at least, to get baseball to some degree back into the city of Montreal.

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