Noble: A new perch for Hawk
Feared slugger and solid outfielder, Dawson finally earns call
A brick building in a small town in upstate New York, 100 miles from everywhere, has its doors, its windows and its threshold. And now it has Andre Dawson as well. The heralded Hawk has stepped inside -- he might have limped in, if not for two knee replacement surgeries -- no longer fretting about his window of opportunity or the factors on which candidacy to the National Baseball Hall of Fame hinges.
The door opened just enough Wednesday to accommodate the Hawk's still in-shape body and to warrant a new monogram for his varsity sweater -- HOF. The opening, though, was too narrow for anyone else to gain entry, even those who garnered a clear majority in the balloting of 539 baseball writers. Bert Blyleven has his 287-victory foot in the door, it would seem. And Roberto Alomar, widely regarded as the premier player at his position, has reached the threshold of the Hall.
Unless Blyleven expects his candidacy to retreat next year, his 14th year of eligibility, he ought to make reservations now in the Otesaga hotel in Cooperstown for mid-summer 2011. Alomar, as acrobatic as any second baseman, probably can gain access to the Hall on his own by making a move akin to those he made on infields in both leagues.
But the system doesn't operate that way. To borrow phrasing from Mr. Starkey, "It don't come easy." And because it doesn't, the door that leads to the main entrance of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is protected by a metaphoric awning made of mystique.
Dawson is beginning to understand that mystique now. He regarded it as a mistake as he waited most of the decade for his day. And he'll have a better grasp of it come July 25, when he is seated on the same stage as Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson. Although he doesn't know -- or can't say -- what lid will be depicted on his HOF plaque, he has capped his career.
Trying to figure who will follow him is a delicious exercise for those who form the electorate -- voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America already are pondering the next ballot -- and those without a say who embrace the game. It is a dual-direction exercise as well -- examine the past to determine the future. Look both ways before you vote.
The results of the most recent balloting underscore how selective the voting members remain. Their discriminating nature fuels mystique more than most factors. Some folks considered Alomar's election a certainty because, to some degree, he redefined the position, not to the extent Ozzie Smith changed shortstop, but Alomar did play his position like a Romanian gymnast curling his body in angles that made observers blanch as much as they marveled.
His candidacy did garner the highest percentage ever by a player on the ballot for the first time, 73.7. Another eight votes would have had him walking shoulder to shoulder with Dawson come July. But the second baseman of a generation must wait for a second year.
And Blyleven's percentage increased dramatically -- from 62.7 to 74.2 percent -- something of a curveball for a past master of the pitch. But ultimately, the BBWAA sent him another "wait till next year" edict. An additional five votes would have ended the annual torture for him. His total was 400. Only four players have come closer in vote total and not been elected.
The electorate was stingy in other instances. Dave Parker, named on 25 percent of the ballots in 1998, endured a 10th straight year with lower than 20 percent support; Barry Larkin, thought to be nearly as strong a first-year candidate as Alomar, was checked on barely half the ballots; and Lee Smith was left still looking up at 50 percent after eight years of eligibility. No, it don't come easy. And oftentimes, it doesn't come at all. See Ted Simmons.
Not that Alomar and Blyleven didn't gain some distinction; for the first time, two candidates were unable to gain election by fewer than 10 votes each. That fact probably won't appear on either man's plaque if and when the door opens a bit wider.
It is the blogging, Facebooking time in which we live that calls more attention to those who fall short than those who gain election. And, of course, there are more runners-up than HOF designates. Dawson shouldn't be overlooked, though. Those around him, residents of Wrigleyville, South Florida and maybe even Montreal are the ones who will see beyond Alomar, Blyleven and Larkin and recall why Andre Dawson became The Hawk and eventually a Hall of Famer.
Eight Gold Gloves are evidence of his defensive skills. And perhaps his election is an indication of an increasing regard for defense among the writers. Wretched knees and all, Dawson could run down a fly ball whether he was competing with vine-covered bricks or that dreadful synthetic grass that so many -- too many -- ballparks had when he launched his career in 1977. Phony turf was an issue for Dawson. He was subjected to its unyielding surface for 11 summers in Montreal.
He acknowledged Monday he might not have reached the Hall if all of the path he took to it had been covered with that plastic stuff. He said he sometimes has wondered if his wait would have been shorter than nine years if more of the fields he played on had been natural. The other field's grass is always greener. But he pointed out that overcoming his knee problems made him appreciate his time-consuming preparation and his work ethic.
He talked on Wednesday about the pain in his knees and the hours he spent in the trainer's room. New knees allow him to move painlessly now, he said. But another surgery may be necessary and the tone of his voice indicated the sense of pain hasn't faded completely.
Today, though, creates no strain on his retired and rebuilt wheels. The Hawk is flying. He's made it through the door. The others will just have to sit on the stoop for a while and wait.
"The wait was worth it," Andre Dawson said.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.