At this time of year baseball legends are usually found on convention floors signing trading cards, not on Canada trading floors.
But the latter is where we found Andre Dawson on Wednesday afternoon. Dawson, along with a slew of other sport celebrities, was at CIBC’s downtown Toronto office working the phones to help raise money for children’s charities as part of CIBC “Miracle Day.”
During a brief break from his responsibilities Wednesday, I caught up with Dawson about his giving spirit, what happened in Miami, how he feels about PED users in Cooperstown and the possibility of Major League Baseball returning to Montreal.
Sportsnet: Where does your philanthropic side come from?
Andre Dawson: I’ve always been youth-driven when it comes to reaching out and giving back to the community, and what purpose I can serve to develop them and get them to the next level and be an inspiration and make an impact on their lives. My foundation was set up after I had already been in Major League Baseball for 10 years. It’s a cause I felt I would dedicate to my grandmother. To this day it’s the closest thing to me when I think, how do I give back.
Sportsnet: Now that you’ve parted ways with the Marlins what’s next for you in baseball?
Dawson: I think I’m going to assume a position with the Chicago Cubs. Probably in the same capacity that I had with the Miami/Florida Marlins. I’m not quite ready to hang it up and walk away from the game. I enjoy the role that I had.
Sportsnet: You’ll always be remembered for your time as a player and you are not struggling financially. Why do you still desire to work in the game at this stage of your life?
Dawson: Baseball has been my life. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do from early childhood. It’s the reason why I am who I am today. I still feel I can add and bring a lot to the game. I just celebrated my 63rd birthday. My first and initial reaction when they changed ownership down in Miami was, “Is it time to just retire and sit back?”
I knew I’d never be a couch person. I enjoyed what I was doing and I feel there is a lot I can offer to the younger ballplayers. I know a time is going to come in the years to come. When I’m ready to make that decision, I’m going to be able to say I’ve made my mark.
Sportsnet: Were you surprised with how the new ownership dealt with former player turned employees like you?
Dawson: It didn’t surprise me. It was disappointing. I think they had issues and were insensitive when it came to community relations. That’s what new ownerships do. They have the right to hire their own people, it’s their money, they have the right to do that. But to come in and clean house altogether, usually you don’t go that route completely. I understand that’s the nature of the business, the nature of the game.
Sportsnet: How were the changes communicated to you?
Dawson: That’s a story altogether (laughs). I never spoke with Jeter directly. Most of the communications I had were with Michael Hill, who was the general manager in charge. He was the messenger in everything that was relayed to me.
Sportsnet: Baseball players past and present have a brotherhood. Were you disappointed that Jeter didn’t have the conversation with you, as a former player, something you wouldn’t expect from an average businessman who owned a team?
Dawson: That’s the surprising part of it because now you’re talking about taking over baseball operations. A part of that comes with sitting down, communicating. Communicating with the people you have to, directly. That really never happened. I had one meeting with both of them. It didn’t really facilitate anything. The offer that was made to me came later on, but it wasn’t Jeter, it was a message that came from the group.
Sportsnet: Before you were a Marlin you were an Expo. What are your memories of Montreal?
Dawson: The Expos were very special. That is where I got my start. They drafted me, they gave me an opportunity very early after a year-and-a-half in the minor leagues. It’s a different culture, different language barrier, the customs issue entering and leaving was all fairly new. I was maybe a year or so removed from being on an airplane for the first time. I had never experienced snow. It was a culture shock, but for 10 years the fanbase was phenomenal. They were still learning the sport but they were very generous.
Sportsnet: How was the decision made for you to wear an Expos hat in Cooperstown?
Dawson: It wasn’t my decision at all. The Hall made the decision. That’s what they do now. They started that 12-15 years ago, of making the decision of what hat you were going to wear. For me it was just a matter of getting in. That was the toughest part. That hat part would have been very easy. Based on the history of the game they made the decision to put me in as an Expo.
There was only one other Expo, that being Gary Carter. Now there is three of us with Tim Raines. Vladimir Guerrero may get in next year. If not next year, probably the following year, but he’s a shoo-in. It is to be determined what hat he is going to wear, but if he gets in he’ll probably be the fourth and final Expo to get in.
Sportsnet: What hat were you planning on choosing?
Dawson: I initially said I would lean to Chicago because Chicago catapulted me to that status. Even though it was only six years, I got a lot more media recognition, then when I played here (Canada). I was in the running for MVP in Montreal on two other occasions and I knew it wasn’t going to happen because we didn’t get the media recognition.
When I left Montreal, I left with a lot of bitter feelings because I felt I was forced out. I wanted to wear the uniform and retire as an Expo. They made a business decision that wasn’t going to work in my favour, so I could sense the writing was on the wall. I did say Chicago just because I won my MVP there. I went to postseason play there. It was four years short of my stint here in Canada but Chicago overwhelmed me and was a whole different level of baseball.
Sportsnet: Do you think MLB baseball will return to Montreal?
Dawson: I’m really pulling for it. I think the fans are starved for baseball. I think it will work. I think it takes the right owner to come in and build a facility that is suitable for baseball. It’s going to take deep pockets. I think there is a lot of red tape involved. I definitely feel it can and will work the second time around because I sense how much the sport is missed in Montreal.
Sportsnet: Your contemporary Joe Morgan has written a letter stating that alleged performance enhancing drug users like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens shouldn’t be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Did his plea surprise you?
Dawson: Not at all because it’s been a conversation spread around Hall of Fame weekend. What’s forgotten is how tough it is to get in to the Hall. It’s a very, very close-knit fraternity. The Hall of Famers like to feel that each and every individual has a unique reason for why he is in the Hall of Fame. They really take exception to the rules being broken. For us to want to sit on that stage and welcome an individual who doesn’t fit the criteria would be a tough pill to swallow. Just from the conversations I’ve been in since 2010, the conversations that have evolved, the feeling is the players that did break the rules cheated the game. They did it for obvious, selfish reasons and with that comes consequences.
Sportsnet: Shohei Ohtani might be one of the young players you work with as the Cubs are on his short list and like you, he will start his MLB career in a foreign land? How would you advise a unique talent like him?
Dawson: Well, for one I wouldn’t want to step on any toes and be a coach. He’s probably going to have his own circle of people following him. He’s going to have his own routine and work ethic. So you want to try and impart things about playing at this level as opposed to where he is coming from and how you get your feet underneath you and get accustomed to playing in a different culture in a different country. You got to the Big Leagues for a reason. You’ve got the talent and that is going to show itself in time. Then the coaching staff is going to be the ones responsible for developing you. For me, it’s just imparting knowledge and experiences that are going to help him at this level.
Sportsnet: There is talk he’ll want to pitch every sixth day so he can play the field. Is that doable during the grind of 162 games?
Dawson: It’s not going to be easy because you’re going to ask your body to do different things. It’s a different game. It’s a faster game. I don’t know if you want to go from being a max effort pitcher to then stretching your arm out playing the outfield, which is probably where he is going to play. It’s never be done before. You’ve had two-sport players, but a player playing two different positions on a regular basis? It’s never been done before. He’s young, probably exuberant and full of vigour. It’s a different ballgame when you’re talking about the Major Leagues. If you can pull it off, God bless you. I’d be surprised if an organization allowed him to go that route, and how long they’d allow it.
Sportsnet: How do you think your contribution to baseball will be remembered?
Dawson: I never talk legacy. I’m very humble. I’m just an individual who looks back at my blessings. I was very fortunate for things to turn out the way that they did. I had injuries I had to battle before I became a professional. My grandparents set me on a course to have the mindset of just being the best you could be. As it turned out, I didn’t do too bad.