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The Hawk, the HOF and Me

Today’s Wisch List column from the Kankakee Daily Journal

The Hawk, the HOF and Me

The WISCH LIST

Jan. 9, 2010

In 1987, I was short, the Cubs were awful and Andre Dawson was amazing.

That summer on the North Side of Chicago, the Lovable Losers were never more lovable as they dropped 85 games, canned sadsack manager Gene Michael and finished dead last in the National League East.

But, in spite of all that, the team still managed to leave me with one of the most enduring memories of my youth, which I vividly recalled once again this week when Dawson was finally named to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame after eight frustrating swings and misses.

On July 7, 1987, my father and I, along with my Little League manager and his son – who was a teammate of mine – made the trek from Bourbonnais to the corner of Clark and Addison to watch the Cubs take on the San Diego Padres in a matinee at the Friendly Confines.

I don’t believe the four of us were expecting much, since the Cubs had already been stinking up the joint for months. And the fact that star middle infielders Shawon Dunston and Ryne Sandberg were out with injuries and being replaced by the, ahem, immortal double-play tandem of Mike Brumley and Paul Noce didn’t particularly buoy our hopes for win.

But, whatever, I was 11. It was still Wrigley Field. It was still the Cubs. And Dawson, the dashing right fielder that the Tribune Company had signed for a song off the free-agent market the previous winter, was still in the lineup.

And he was hot.

That season, the “Hawk” would go on to bash 49 home runs, drive in 137 runs and so lap the offensive field in the National League that he managed, quite remarkably, to haul in MVP honors on a truly crummy team.

Unlike the Cubs themselves, Dawson had a lot of good days during the summer of ’87.

This, however, was not one of them.

For the Tuesday afternoon tilt, an erratic right-hander named Eric Show took the mound for the Padres against some Cubs rookie by the name of Greg Maddux. And by the third inning, the Cubs had already belted three home runs off Show – including a solo shot by Dawson – when the Hawk strolled back up to the plate.

With Dawson having hit homers in three of his last five at-bats, the volatile Show – who would pass away less than seven years later from a drug overdose – proceeded to fire a fastball directly at his head. It struck the Cubs slugger flush on the left cheek and sent Dawson down in a heap at home plate, sucking the collective breath out of Wrigley.

The next thing you knew, Cubs pitcher Rick Sutcliffe was barreling out of the dugout – his eyes as red as his beard – on a beeline for Show. A bench-clearing brouhaha was on. And in a surreal scene, players exchanged blows and shoves in the infield while Dawson lay prone at the plate.

Adding to the madness of the situation was that it was “Seat Cushion Day” at Wrigley. And not surprisingly once the brawl broke out, hundreds of the white cushions distributed among the Bleacher Bums were sent flipping and flying like Frisbees across the outfield grass.

Moments later, the crowd became only more vociferous when Dawson – now surrounded by teammates and trainers after the infield brawl had subsided – suddenly leapt to his feet and charged like a madman towards the Padres dugout, searching for Show.

Lucky for the San Diego headhunter, Show was a no-show on the field as he had already slipped into the safety of the clubhouse. Eventually tamed by his teammates, Dawson was finally escorted to the hospital where he required several stitches in his face, thus sewing the day into my permanent memory bank.

Now, that ballgame, of course, wasn’t the reason why I became such a big Andre Dawson fan during the six seasons that he spent patrolling right field for the Cubs.

No, his Tru-Link Fence commercial was.

I’m kidding.

(Well, sort of.)

Really, though, what I admired about Dawson was the way he carried himself off the field and the way he willed himself on it, fighting through a dozen knee surgeries to earn eight Gold Gloves and become only the third player in history to record 400 home runs and 300 steals.

Such is my admiration for the Hawk that on Wednesday, shortly learning he had been inducted into the Hall of Fame, I booked a hotel room so I can join Andre’s Army at his induction ceremony on July 25.

It’s been more than 20 years since I’ve been to Cooperstown and more than 20 years since that crazy afternoon at Wrigley in 1987.

But, come this summer, I get to be 11 years old all over again. I can’t wait.

Maybe I’ll even bring a seat cushion.

hawk