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Original Issue


The Cubs made the deal of the year, filling in the blanks and signing Andre Dawson

It wasn't as if Andre Dawson had slandered Ernie Banks. Or had slipped Harry Caray a phone number for the Columbia School of Broadcasting. Or had asked when the Cubs were going to turn on the lights at Wrigley Field. For the love of ivy, all Dawson had done last week was hit five homers and drive in 13 runs in three days. But now on this sunny Wednesday afternoon the rest of the Chicago Cubs were giving him the cold shoulder. No high fives. No congratulations.

"We've shaken Andre's hand so much lately, we decided to wait till the next time," catcher Jody Davis said. Dawson walked through the dugout and heard snickering. Then he did something he almost never does during a game.

He smiled. This was no timid grin. This was a say-cheese, ear-to-ear, all-out smile.

Which was only fair, because for two months the Hawk has been igniting smiles all over the North Side. At week's end he was tied for the major league lead with 20 homers, and his 57 RBIs were tops in the bigs.

What's more, the surprising Cubbies are in a pennant race. Cub fans, like Dawson, would trade all the ninth-inning homers and diving catches for a flag—they've gone 41 years without one. It won't be easy this year, either. The Cardinals won three of four last weekend and left town with a three-game lead over the Cubs in the National League East. It's still early in the season, and the 146,316 fans who jammed Wrigley to catch the series saw an exciting Chicago team with plenty of fight in it.

Dawson, 32, has made the game fun for Chicago players and fans alike. The cold shoulder, for example, came in the midst of a 22-7 rout of Houston that was punctuated by six Cub homers, two of them grand slams. As of Sunday the Cubs led the National League with 80 homers, a pace that would give them 236 by year's end. (The club record is 182. As Joe Garagiola once observed, "The Chicago Cubs are like Rush Street—a lot of singles but no action.")

Dawson has lightened the mood of the club, and Chicago, in turn, has made the game fun again for him. "The fans have been phenomenal," he says. "I had more applause in the first month here than I did in 10 years in Montreal."

Though the fans at Wrigley Field have helped soothe his soul (and the grass there his aching knees), Dawson is still getting used to his new digs and daytime baseball. "I never thought I was a night person anyway," he says. "I wanted to eat breakfast, go to the park and get it over with. Then go home, eat a meal and go to bed. I try to keep even-keeled. People say, 'You're having a good season. Why don't you smile more?' It's not my nature. I won't go off on any kind of a frenzy until the seventh game of the World Series is won."

"The time was right for a guy like Andre Dawson to come along," says Chicago general manager Dallas Green. "After two years of lousy baseball performances, he's like a breath of fresh air for the fans."

The Bleacher Bums have found that there are many reasons to love this man teammates in Montreal used to call Andre Awesome. His bat: Dawson is hitting .296, with seven game-winning and 10 game-tying RBIs. His defense: Dawson brought six Gold Gloves with him from Montreal. His work ethic: Last week, with the Cubs leading the Astros 9-1, Dawson chased down a foul fly by Glenn Davis, nearly stumbled over the bullpen mound in rightfield, made the catch and crashed into the wall. His sacrifice: Yes, there is that matter of the 50% pay cut he took to play in Chicago.

"He is the first major free agent [from another city] who has wanted to play in Chicago," pitcher Rick Sutcliffe says. Dawson favored Chicago because 1) he wanted to play on grass to reduce the stress on his knees; 2) coming into this season, his lifetime average in day games was .306, in night games .265; 3) he had a career average of .346 at Wrigley, where he gives new meaning to the phrase "the friendly confines"; 4) he wanted to stay in the National League and play for a contender; and 5) Chicago wasn't Montreal.

Last year Dawson was troubled by trade rumors that always seemed to include his name, and he felt that because the Expos had traded Gary Carter, the front office had lost its drive to win. Montreal offered Dawson $1 million a season for two years if he would stay. This was less than the $1,055,000 he received in 1986 and, anyway, he wasn't looking to stay.

Dick Moss, Dawson's attorney, let Green know of his client's desire to move to Chicago. "In my heart," Green said at the time, "the Cubs don't need Dawson.... If Andre hits .900, it won't matter, if the rest of the team doesn't play well...."

Green was frankly embarrassed by the club's fat payroll (second-highest in the majors) and dead set against signing any more free agents. "Our experience in the free-agent field was almost nauseating," Green says. Sutcliffe offered to surrender $100,000 of his $1.8 million salary if that money would help sign Dawson. In spite of the offer, the front office was unmoved.

To break the impasse, Moss and Dawson gave the Cubs a blank contract and promised to sign it after the club filled in the numbers. The Cubs offered Dawson $500,000, guaranteed. "I was still looking for the fly in the ointment," Green says, "I was still looking for the gimmick. That's why I made the type of offer I did. I knew it was low. I knew it was going to hurt. But it was the only way I could deal with my own principles and try to be consistent."

Green did not expect Dawson to accept, but Andre is a rare human being as well as a rare ballplayer. He kept his word. On top of the guarantee, Dawson can make $150,000 if he doesn't go on the disabled list with a knee injury before the All-Star Game. There are other bonuses, including one for making the All-Star team—a fairly good bet considering his numbers.

Dawson thinks the $500,000 was absurdly low. "But I just wanted to play ball and be happy again," he says. "When your own teammates tell you it's time to move on, then you have to start thinking of changing things."

Moss and Green have discussed redoing Dawson's contract, but neither has put any specifics on the bargaining table. "I told Dick that it's not a priority, but I would be glad to entertain ideas," Green says.

The way Dawson is going, Green is going to be entertaining a lot of ideas. Especially if Andre's knees hold up. He has had surgery on both and in recent years has had to drain them of fluid two or three times. This year they have not been drained, and he says they feel better than they have since early in his career. Obviously, he doesn't miss the concretelike turf at Montreal's Olympic Stadium.

Or the fans. He has plenty of new ones. Jerry Pritikin, 50, has watched Cub games from the leftfield bleachers for 42 years. On Wednesday, for the first time, he moved to right.

"They call him Awesome because it rhymes with Dawson," Pritikin says. "If his name were Schwartz, he would still be Awesome."



Dawson, who has always hit well at Wrigley, leads Chicago with 20 homers and 57 RBIs.



Tommy Herr's Cards and Shawon Dunston's Cubs have the other teams eating dust.



Caray has sung Dawson's praises since returning to the booth after a mild stroke.