Daily Herald
Dawson pours his heart out and has message for kids on the edge
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 7/25/2010 8:40 PM | Updated: 7/26/2010 12:16 PM

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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - For Andre Dawson, a journey to the center of the baseball Earth was all about love, and Sunday afternoon he revealed unabashedly the secrets of his heart and his success.

Dawson delivered a sermon on love for his family, love for Cubs fans and - above all else - his love of the game.

He has professed throughout the years that baseball was his salvation, and on the greatest stage a major leaguer can ever take, he preached from the lectern that his love for baseball was the very reason he now has a plaque in the finest room of the grandest wing of sports world's most treasured museum.

"I didn't play the game with this goal in my mind," Dawson said of becoming the newest member of the very small Hall of Fame club. "But I am living proof that if you love this game, the game will love you back."

It's a theme he repeated throughout his induction speech, offering hope to kids who feel hopeless, who believe there's no way out of the poverty often endured in a single-parent home.

"Look behind me at these incredible men who make up the Hall of Fame," Dawson said of his fellow Hall of Famers. "There are many of us up here who had nothing, who came from nothing, who wondered if nothing was all there ever was.

"Look at us. There is hope. But you can't get here by skipping school or disrespecting your parents or your teachers or your coaches.

"You can't get here by dropping out of society. You can't get here if you believe you have nothing to lose out on the streets."

On a rainy and humid afternoon, the sun eerily burst out only minutes before Dawson spoke in front of about 10,000, some of whom came to witness the inductions of Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey.

A heavy dose of Cubs and Cardinals fans shouted down the fractious chants of "Let's go Expos," but most were nevertheless here to see Dawson, the 56-year-old legend who waited nine years for his election.

Dawson used the opportunity to pay tribute to Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, and to the great black players of his youth, especially Cubs like Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins, who battled racism on their trek to the majors.

"These guys had to go through a lot to fight their way here, more than people will probably ever know," Dawson said. "I admire you all a lot and I thank you for paving the way."

Dawson thanked several friends, coaches, teammates, managers, trainers and doctors, and was polite in talking about his time in Montreal, but spoke from the heart when it came to Cubs fans.

"You were a true blessing in my life. I never knew what it felt like to be loved by a city until I arrived in Chicago," Dawson said. "I can't thank you enough for how good you were to my family and me. You were the wind beneath the Hawk's wings."

But it was his love for his late grandmother and especially his mother - who died four years ago - that brought tears to the eyes of many in the crowd and even some on the stage.

Known for his ferocious stare at pitchers that could intimidate a lesser man, Dawson was, as it turns out, a true mama's boy.

"She was my mom. She was my dad. She was my big sister. My big brother. My best friend," Dawson said, his voice cracking. "She was my whole world for a very long time in my life, and I only wish she were here to see this.

"Before she passed away, she dreamt of this moment. She dreamt of this day. She promised me it would happen. And my mother never broke a promise to me. She said, 'It's inevitable. What God has planned, no man can change.'

"More than anyone else or anything else, this is for my mom, who did the impossible every day. She raised a family and taught her children right from wrong. She kept it together and somehow got by.

"My grandmother and my mom were my true heroes. They gave me life, they gave me my daily bread, and they gave me hope.

"They showed me the way to get through the day, and to overcome obstacles hundreds of years old. They showed me how to live. They showed me the way out. They showed me the way here.

"They taught me to love and to hope and to believe in help from above. So I think of them today and all they sacrificed for me. I will not forget their struggle, not on this, the greatest of days."

Dawson feared going into the weekend that he might not make it through the passages referring to his mom and grandmother, but despite having to briefly stop twice, Dawson soared through it.

The same could not be said for all in attendance, some of whom sobbed whenever his voice buckled.

"I am not ashamed to say my mom was everything to me, and while she's not here, she is still with me," Dawson said. "I hope she looks down and she is proud of me. I love you mom."

The words of a real man so secure in who he is that he boasted of missing his security blanket, unafraid to bare his soul in front of the world, not ashamed but instead proud to say what so many never do.

And so a man who came from nothing was raised to believe that through dedication, respect and inexorable hard work, he could bring the world to him and have anything he wanted, and yet be satisfied with far less.

Today, Andre Dawson has a Hall of Fame ring.

Satisfaction, thanks to his mom, is forever guaranteed.

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.