A Place in History
Published 12:44 am Monday, July 26, 2010
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — “The Hawk” has landed in Cooperstown.
Andre Dawson, who endured 12 knee surgeries to forge an impressive 21-year major league career, was inducted Sunday into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming just the 203rd player in the game’s long history to receive the honor.
“Thank you for welcoming this rookie to your team” said Dawson, who played for a decade in Montreal before signing with the Chicago Cubs as a free agent. “It’s an honor beyond words. I didn’t play this game with this goal in mind, but I’m living proof that if you love this game, the game will love you back. I am proof that any young person who can hear my voice right now can be standing here as I am.”
The 56-year-old Dawson took the podium as Cubs and Expos fans roared their approval and began his speech by thanking his loyal fans from both cities. He then poked fun at several Hall of Famers on the stage behind him.
“Tom Lasorda, he taught me how to get a free meal. You gotta love Tommy,” Dawson said of the former Los Angeles Dodgers manager. “You eat half your meal, then complain and get a whole new free one.”
Dawson, an All-Star eight times who had 438 homers, 2,774 hits, 1,591 RBIs and 314 stolen bases in his career from 1976-96, then got serious, warning players not to be lured to the dark side of using performance-enhancing drugs.
“There’s nothing wrong with the game of baseball,” said Dawson, one of just three players to hit 400 homers and steal 300 bases. “Baseball will, from time to time like anything else in life, fall victim to the mistakes that people make. It’s not pleasant and it’s not right. Individuals have chosen the wrong road, and they’re choosing that as their legacy. Those mistakes have hurt the game and taken a toll on all of us.
“Others still have a chance to choose theirs. Do not be lured to the dark side,” he cautioned. “It’s a stain on the game, a stain gradually being removed.”
Dawson was part of a class that included former manager Whitey Herzog, umpire Doug Harvey, broadcaster Jon Miller and sports writer Bill Madden. The ceremony also honored Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Fogerty, who sang his classic song “Centerfield.”
Fogerty wrote the tune 25 years ago and it had been played at the start of induction Sunday for more than a decade.
“I’m truly honored,” Fogerty said after playing the song on his guitar “Slugger,” which is shaped like a baseball bat and went on display later in the day inside the Hall of Fame. “I wrote that as an 8-year-old boy. That 8-year-old boy right now is saying, ’It ain’t getting any better than this.’ “
Herzog, 78, who played eight nondescript years for four teams, managed for 18 seasons, 11 with the St. Louis Cardinals after stints in Texas, California and Kansas City. He guided the Royals to three consecutive playoff appearances in the 1970s and led the Cardinals to the 1982 World Series title just two years after he was hired.
The Cards also made World Series appearances in 1985 and 1987 under Herzog, who finished his managing career in 1990 with a record of 1,279-1,123, a .532 winning percentage.
“Ever since I was elected in December, people have asked, ’What’s it feel like to be a Hall of Famer?”’ Herzog said. “Now I can tell you what it feels like. It feels like going to heaven before you die.”
As he has so often in the past, Herzog credited Casey Stengel, the Hall of Fame manager of the New York Yankees and Mets, with much of his success.
“Casey told me so many things that became valuable,” Herzog said. “For some reason, he knew that I was going to be a big league manager. My high school teachers would have died if they’d heard him say that. He had his own language. It took me hours sometimes to figure him out.”
The 80-year-old Harvey, who worked in the National League from 1962 to 1992, called 4,673 regular-season games during his major-league career and also umpired five World Series, six All-Star Games and nine National League Championship Series.
Nicknamed “God” during his heyday because of his authoritative, no-nonsense demeanor on the field, Harvey lived up to the moniker on his special day.
Suffering from throat cancer, Harvey recorded his 20-minute acceptance speech in the spring. It began raining while the video was playing, but by the time he addressed the crowd the sun was shining.
“I want you to notice that I stopped the rain,” he deadpanned in closing.
Harvey, the ninth umpire to be inducted and the first living umpire inducted since Al Barlick in 1989, joked afterward that “I had less rainouts than anyone else in the world.”
“My only ambition has been to improve the profession,” said Harvey, who learned from his father and didn’t attend umpiring school because he couldn’t afford it. “I’ve tried to mentor, teaching them everything I know about the game.”
Harvey clearly was touched by the honor.
“If you’re a true baseball fan, you need to visit Cooperstown,” he said. “This is home, and you need to touch home. I’ll be watching to make sure you do.”