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Columnist
Call to Hall goes a long way to ease some of Dawson's pain
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 1/7/2010 12:01 AM

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It was just another nondescript night in Montreal, back in the early '90s, except that on this night Andre Dawson was in even more pain than usual.

The Cubs had announced Dawson wouldn't play that night against the Expos after having his left knee drained yet again, of who knows how many cc's of fluid, blood and debris, and whatever else came out of that decrepit joint.

And then the Cubs announced that he would play. And then again that he wouldn't.

Finally, after all the back and forth, Dawson came limping slowly out of the trainer's room, barely able to put one foot in front of the other.

This was not entirely unusual before a game as he tried to loosen his knees, but this pregame was borderline gruesome as he navigated his path, tagged with bloodied bandages and littered with ice packs.

A clubhouse full of players stared in disbelief as Dawson inched toward his locker, stopped, and asked what time he was scheduled to take batting practice.

Shawon Dunston put his head down and covered his face with his glove. He was in tears. He was in tears and he was in awe, and it was all Dunston could do to keep from running up and hugging the man he worshipped.

Thing is, they all worshipped him.

He was "the Hawk."

I have been in a few locker rooms in my time and to this day I've never seen players look at another player, in any sport or at any level, the way the Cubs looked at Andre Dawson.

More than respect, it was reverence.

It didn't matter where players came from or how long they knew him, but in that room Dawson was deity.

He was their hero.

And today he is their Hall of Famer.

"It's a great day for the Hawk, and I couldn't be happier," said former teammate Ryne Sandberg. "I can't think of anyone more deserving."

It's something that should have happened long ago, but his incredible, five-tool career - backed by numbers that didn't need explaining 20 years ago - was obliterated by the steroids era, and a man once considered a first-ballot cinch had to wait nine long years, as voters searched for answers and sifted through the misery that has become a performance-enhanced sport.

But the pain of that is now gone, replaced by the relief that Dawson is finally and officially considered among the greatest 203 major-leaguers of all time.

"I can't describe how good it feels, but it's even better than I expected," Dawson said when I spoke to him Wednesday. "The wait was worth it."

But in the years he waited and wondered, the person who wanted it most, his mom, passed away.

"It meant more to her than anyone, and you could see it hurt her that it didn't happen for me," Dawson said, his voice cracking. "She would say, 'Don't worry, it's gonna happen.'

"It really would have meant the world to her."

Mattie raised Andre alone, and he never forgot her sacrifice, never stopped being his mother's son.

So when his vote total actually went backward three years ago, a few months after his mother's death, Dawson was on the other end of a phone call as I walked into Soldier Field for the Bears-Seahawks playoff game.

A very proud man wondered what he had done wrong. He wasn't begging for votes, but he was pleading for answers.

Understanding there wasn't one, or that I possess too feeble a mind to interpret such a vote, and having only one Hall of Fame ballot, all I could offer was the fact that steroid stories were everywhere, and a window was on the horizon without any first-ballot locks.

It was painful to think of Dawson - recovering at the time from complications suffered during knee-replacement surgery - wondering why he had bothered to donate his body to four organizations over 22 years.

But he didn't.

"I never regretted it," Dawson says now. "Maybe I shouldn't have been so naïve, but I just wanted to play and they said I could.

"I played a whole year in Montreal with a fractured knee and bone spurs and it took them three months just to order X-rays.

"I was on Darvocet twice before the game and once during to get through it. I felt like I owed it to myself not to be held down by injury, not to use it as an excuse, that I needed to get everything out of the talent I was given."

We too often wax eloquent about those who play through pain in sports, but the truth is Dawson achieved greatness despite his agony, and despite the anonymity of Montreal and the disrespect of collusion.

And he never let up.

It was impossible to be around Dawson and be unaffected by how he performed, by how he worked, by how he persevered, and by how his teammates, coaches and managers viewed him.

Many a great player often said it was a privilege just to be on the same field with him.

Opponents spoke of him the way you heard players talk about Walter Payton.

These people are rare in life, not just in sports, and it was sad that Dawson had to wonder if he would ever get his just due.

Some things are just patently wrong. You can feel it, deep down, and you know it. But sometimes wrongs are righted.

And so today is a good day.

Andre Dawson is a Hall of Famer.

Nothing has ever been more right.

brozner@dailyherald.com