NEW YORK — Andre Dawson’s first order of business after donning his new Hall of Fame jersey and cap was to make a confession.
“As I stand here, I’m literally shaking,” Dawson said Thursday. “I had a knee replacement on one leg that I thought was dead but it’s shaking.”
Dawson’s journey to the Hall was a painful one — and not because he had to endure a nine-year wait to be elected.
Rather, it took 12 knee operations — sounds like a record — for Dawson to complete a 21-year career (1976-96) that finally landed him the coveted title of Hall of Famer on Wednesday, when was the only player for 2010 to receive at least 75 per cent of the vote.
And get this, he still stole more than 300 bases to go with his 438 home runs. Along with Willie Mays and Barry Bonds, he’s one of three major leaguers to accomplish the feat.
“The Hawk” played his first 11 seasons on the artificial turf of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, which he said was as hard as the carpeted floor he was standing on at his news conference. He extended his career with 10 more years on grass, including six with the Chicago Cubs, where he won the 1987 National League MVP.
The Hall of Fame still hasn’t decided whether the eight-time all-star will have an Expos or Cubs hat — Dawson also played two years each for Boston and Florida — on his bronze plaque.
Despite the near life-sized poster of Dawson in an Expos uniform next to the dais, Hall president Jeff Idelson said no decision has been made.
“At the end of the day you want the logo to represent where this guy made his greatest impact,” Idelson said. “He was impactful in Montreal. He was impactful in Chicago, and to a much lesser extent Boston and Florida, but it’s more of a case sitting down and collectively make a decision.”
Dawson might have never made it to Chicago, where he said he rejuvenated his career, were it not for the encouragement of his wife, Vanessa. Playing with a high school football injury he never properly rehabilitated, Dawson was in so much pain in his fourth big league season because of a “fractured knee” that he told her he didn’t know if he could play any longer. Powerful pain killers were barely getting him through games.
“The third (Darvocet) took the pain away but it came back at night. That’s why I didn’t want to do it anymore,” Dawson said. “And she looked at me and said, ‘You know you’re hurting now, but just see what the problem is because a year, two years from now you are going to regret walking away.”’
Dawson stayed in baseball, hoping that in the best-case he could go 2 1/2, three years between operations. He said a strict, prolonged pre- and post-game routine and the switch to playing on grass lengthened his career. In 2006, he had two knee replacement operations on his left knee.
The payoff will come July 25, when he will be inducted at Cooperstown along with manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey, elected last month by the Veterans Committee.
One thing Dawson wasn’t keen on doing to extend his career was act as the designated hitter. In his two seasons with the Red Sox he played 171 games at DH and he felt there was an “element of the game missing.”
Dawson, who won eight Gold Gloves, thinks there’s room for a designated hitter in the Hall, though.