Boston happy to have him, but Dawson left part of his heart behind in Chicago


CHICAGO -- Three weeks ago, Andre Dawson took his 3 1/2 -year-old son, Darius, to the souvenir shop at Fenway Park to get him a Red Sox cap. Darius protested. He wanted a Cubs cap.

"I had to buy both caps," Dawson said at Comiskey Park on Friday night, his first visit to Chicago after six seasons with the Cubs.

"I would have liked to retire here," Dawson said. "I love the city, and I love the people. But the Cubs management is a whole different story."

The Cubs' brass, fearful that his knees wouldn't hold up, refused to offer him a contract for more than one year. Dawson said a reluctant goodbye and hooked on with the Red Sox for two years guaranteed for a total of $9.75 million.

"He's everything everybody said he was," said Butch Hobson, the Red Sox manager, who at 41 is only three years Dawson's senior. "He goes about his business in a very class way. It's just a matter of time before he gets hot and carries us."

Dawson completed the weekend series with the White Sox batting .236 with two home runs and 22 runs batted in. His numbers would be larger if he hadn't undergone surgery on his right knee on May 6. It was his eighth knee operation -- five on the right knee. He was back in the lineup less than three weeks later.

"It's remarkable how fast he came back," Hobson said. "The doctors said six to eight weeks."

Dawson explained: "My job is on the playing field, not in the clubhouse."

Dawson, nonetheless, is among the very few players who can help just by being there.

L The old-time ballplayers are constantly singing his praises.

Said Wes Westrum, a former major-league catcher, manager and scout: "He plays hurt, that's the big thing. Players look up to a fellow like that. They want to be like him."

Former American League Most Valuable Player Al Rosen, himself a ferocious competitor, is among Dawson's many admirers.

"I never heard an unkind word about Andre Dawson," the recently retired Rosen said from his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

"He doesn't have to say anything to command respect. Other players, if they had his injuries, would have packed it in. When you stack it all up, what's wrong with Andre Dawson being the starting right fielder on the all-time team?"

Rosen, who served as the general manager of three big-league clubs, added: "If he wanted to stay in baseball, there is no doubt in my mind he would wind up as a general manager."

Dawson likes the idea of running a club. Typically, he doesn't want to start at the top. He would prefer putting in five or six years in player development. He is not interested in managing.

But that's in the future. He intends to play at least two more years.

This is his 17th big-league season. His .282 lifetime average is deceiving. Except for Willie Mays, Dawson is the only player in diamond history who has more than 2,000 hits, 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases. His home run count is now up to 401. He also has won more than a dozen Gold Gloves.

This is his first season in the American League. He admits that the transition has been a bit difficult. Hitters almost always are at a disadvantage when they change leagues.

"It has been a struggle," Dawson conceded. But he is adjusting. This is his second time around the league, and he has discovered, as have many hitters before him, that the American League is a breaking-ball league.

"When you haven't seen a pitcher, you don't know what to expect," he said. "You've got to start keeping tabs on what their best pitches are, what they get you out on. The more you know about a pitcher, the easier it becomes.

"In this league, they don't challenge you with fastballs when they're behind on the count 2-0 and 3-1. Even 3-2, they're throwing breaking balls. In the National League, the managers ,, want their pitchers to avoid the base on balls. Over here, there isn't as much concern if they walk you. That could be one of the reasons the games are so long."

Surprisingly, he still hasn't hit a ball into the short left-field Fenway Park fence, the so-called "Green Monster." He said only four of his hits have been to left field. The pitchers, in the main, have been serving him a diet of breaking balls away.

I mentioned that he has now had the good fortune of playing in Wrigley Field and in Fenway Park, generally regarded as the best major-league parks.

"The dimensions are different," Dawson said. "Fenway Park is bigger, especially in right field. But the fans are right on top of you, like they are at Wrigley Field. And the crowds are similar. Fenway Park is a tough ticket. The fans come out in big numbers -- 25,000, 30,000 for every game."

I asked if he left his heart in Wrigley Field.

"I'll never forget the fans in right field," Dawson replied. "They were special because of their warm reception. They made it known every day they were behind me. And it went on for six years. I'll always be very appreciative."

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