DAWSON UP, BLYLEVEN ON DECK

By Murray Chass

January 6, 2010

Given Bert Blyleven’s criticism of my assessment of his career for my Hall of Fame ballot, I want to be the first to congratulate him on his election a year from now. How do I know Blyleven will be elected in 2011 when the 2010 ballots have hardly been counted? It’s the pattern that has developed in the writers’ voting.Bert Blyleven4 225

When a candidate’s vote total increases steadily and he gets close to election, he is virtually assured that he will be elected. It happened with Andre Dawson this week, and it happened with Jim Rice last year.

Rice was elected by an 8-vote margin after having fallen 16 votes short the year before. Dawson was 44 votes short last year and this year received 15 more than he needed for election. Blyleven missed by only 5 votes in the latest election after having been 67 votes shy a year ago.

I disclosed earlier in the week that I had reconsidered Blyleven this year but had still not voted for him. Among the reasons, I cited some of the poor or mediocre seasons he had when his team had a good season, perhaps undermining the team’s ability to go even further than it did. I specifically cited 1988 when the Twins had a 91-71 record and Blyleven had a 10-17 record.

“I think you are wrong,” Blyleven, who won 287 games in his career, wrote in an e-mail. “In 1988 the Twins did have a great year winning 91 games and I pitched with a sore shoulder all season long.  I did suck that year but I fought though the season.”

“Don’t put me down for a few bad seasons!” he concluded. “Having the opportunity to play a kids game for a long time is reward enough but my career stats are Hall of Fame stats!  Also Andre Dawson’s career is Hall of Fame material as well as many other former players.”

A thought on players’ opinions on which players belong in the Hall of Fame: Before they get in, they think many players should be in; once they are in, they don’t think any more players should get in. The Hall of Famers demonstrated that view when, serving as the veterans committee, they elected no one in two elections.

But Blyleven, as it turned out, was right about Dawson, and I expect he will be right about himself next year.

I, of course, continue to support Jack Morris’ candidacy, and Wednesday’s results were encouraging. For the first time in his 10 years on the ballot, Morris broke the 50-perent level, advancing from 44 percent last year to 52.3 percent. With the same number of voters, 539, Morris gained 45 votes this year.

As far as I know, Morris did not win any more games in the past year nor did he lead another team to a World Series championship. So why did he receive 45 more votes? Those writers apparently woke up, reassessed Morris’ career, whacked themselves on the forehead and exclaimed, “Of course, Morris belongs in Cooperstown.”

Morris, who has grown weary of answering questions about his candidacy, did not hang around Wednesday to answer some more. He went ice fishing. What else to do in  Minnesota in January?

“It’s better to have a good day than rehash the same old thing,” Morris said by telephone after returning home from his outing in minus-two degree weather. “It was lovely out there. I don’t answer the phone on Hall of Fame day. I’d rather go fishing.”
 
Addressing his unexpected increase in his vote total, the former pitcher, who has four years of eligibility left on the writers’ ballot,  said, “I’m conservatively optimistic.”
 
As for Dawson’s election, Morris said, “Andre deserves it. I’m happy for him.”   

Andre Dawson4 225Dawson was in Miami, spending a busy day before receiving his good news in his ninth year on the ballot. Most important before getting the Hall call, he said, was visiting the cemetery where his mother, Maddie Brown, and his grandmother, Eunice Taylor, are buried.

“My grandmother was my chief mentor,” Dawson said when he was asked on a conference call with reporters who his mentors were. “She never got a chance to see me play a game live. My mother, too. They were the most important people growing up. I had to thank them. My mother raised eight siblings without a father.”

Dawson recalled his grandmother’s strong career advice. “My grandmother told me I wasn’t going to play baseball out of high school,” he said. “I was going to college and get my degree. She wrote and said if you have talent and ability someone will recognize it.”

However, it was his agent, Richard Moss, who plotted his course to his greatest success. When he was a free agent after the 1986 season, Dawson got caught up in collusion, the clubs’ conspiracy aimed at keeping free agents at home instead of moving for more money.

Dawson, who wanted out of Montreal after 11 years on the Expos knee-wrecking artificial turf, wasn’t getting any offers when Moss decided to make the Cubs’ Dallas Green an offer he couldn’t refuse. He and Dawson showed up at the Cubs’ spring training site in Arizona and handed Green a signed contract with the salary line left blank. Green, they told the Cubs’ president, could write in any salary he chose.

“It wasn’t a monetary issue,” Dawson said. “It was about respect, about not depriving me of that, about an organization not showing a sense of loyalty after being there all those years. I was sticking my neck out.

“I told my wife I was going to go to Japan. She told me I was crazy. When I told her about a blank contract, she thought it was worse. But she felt better about my plan to stay in the States.”

Dawson said he had returned home from Arizona, and Green called him. “He said I’ve gone through this, and I’ve let my attorney view it. There seems to be no gimmicks about it. The best thing we can do is offer you $500,000. I said it’s perfectly ok. When can I report? He laughed for a moment and said can I get back to you? I said fine. He called about an hour later and said welcome aboard. That’s how we settled the blank contract.”

Despite Dawson’s great season – 49 home runs, 137 runs batted in – the Cubs finished last, but Dawson was named the National League most valuable player.

“The game was fun for me again,” Dawson said. “That year was a career year. It was all a part of a new beginning, playing for a new club. I devoted that season to my grandmother, who had passed away early in the year. Every day I took the field was to thank her. The toughest thing for me that year was closing her coffin.”

Comments? Please send email to comments@murraychass.com.