Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Hawk and Me

We had just moved to Chicago from New York. It was a big transition; neither of us had lived anywhere but the East Coast. I was looking forward to it, having visited Jimmy in 1985. I was stunned when the attendant at the rental car lot at O'Hare wished me a pleasant visit. What? In New York, people in toll booths fucked with you as a matter of occupational pride.

Early March of 1987 was unusually warm when news of the Cubs' signing of Andre Dawson hit town. It was Sunday, March 8, and we were at Ranalli's, one block north of our Dearborn & Maple apartment. Sitting on the second floor outdoor deck, eating an oh so delicious double-decker pizza (two crusts, but not thick), I read the Tribune's account on how Dawson's agent Dick Moss, trying to puncture the baseball owners illegal collusive behavior to halt free agent signings, offered Cubs General Manager Dallas Green a blank check, literally. Fill in what you want for one of the best outfielders in the game, a man four years removed from 2nd place in the National League MVP voting. Dawson, on rickety knees, was desperate to leave the iron-like playing surface in Montreal's Olympic Stadium for the cushy grass of Wrigley. For a base salary of $500,000 the Cubs got a steal.

It was Dawson who was the heart and soul of the late '80's, early '90's Cubs. Not Ryne Sandberg, not Rick Sutcliffe, not Mark Grace, not Greg Maddux. Dawson had the stature, the power and the demeanor that exuded leadership. When he was drilled in the mouth by Padre hurler and John Bircher Eric Show, a horrific beaning that resulted in 20 stitches, the Cubs rose in force to protect their man. It was a melee and showed that behind "The Hawk" the Cubs were not to be toyed with.

What a year that first one was for Andre. An MVP year, with 49 homers and 137 RBI. And that arm! One of the best ever. Sure the Cubbies finished last in '87, but that year began a mini-renaissance for the team that resulted in a division title two years later.

I look back at 1987 and feel inextricably linked to Andre Dawson. It was our rookie season in our new city. His was much better than mine, but over the next few years I had some fine campaigns myself. Our time in Chicago was, in my estimation, our golden era. It was where we had all three boys, owned our first homes, and built something of a successful career. I had a close view of the Cubs those years from Section 131 behind first base. Though I never succumbed to Cub fever, I did love Dawson.

Now, we're both in Cooperstown, though I preceded him by about 6 1/2 years. I'll be there at Induction for sure. I may even run into him at the Friday night party before the big Sunday. I can only hope Dawson's entrance into the Hall of Fame means this will be a good year for ex-Chicagoans.

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