Andre Dawson’s election to the Hall of Fame conjures up a most frightening vision of a very scary slugger with a terribly lethal bat ready to destroy the next innocent baseball a New York Mets pitcher throws his way. I’ve read grumbles and snorts that Dawson’s career on-base percentage is too low to be worthy of Cooperstown, but I gotta tell ya: as one who gripped pillows, remote controls and anything handy in anxiety when he’d come to the plate to face Ron Darling (.333 batting average against, according to Ultimate Mets Database), Bobby Ojeda (.350), Wally Whitehurst (.400), Pete Falcone (.444), Tom Hausman (.467), Randy Jones (.500), Jesse Orosco (.546) or Kevin Kobel (.625), I surely was not thinking, “Oh good, Dawson’s up — little chance of him drawing a walk here.”
I’ve grown fairly numb to the Hall of Fame process if a Met (or somebody who wore a Mets uniform while lounging for a year-and-a-half) isn’t involved. That includes the “which cap?” dilemma that arises often in these days of frequent player movement. Just as I don’t have it in me to get up in arms about whether or not Fred McGriff‘s a Hall of Famer, I don’t particularly care how his hypothetical plaque portrays him. Dawson, though, is an exception to my apathy rule, because I really hope Andre Dawson goes into the Hall as an Expo.
Nobody goes anywhere as an Expo anymore. It would be nice, now and then, if somebody would.
The further we drift from October 3, 2004, the further we are from actual Expos, and the further we get from them, the more exotic they seem. Did we really used to play them eighteen times a year? How could we have? There are no such things as Expos anymore.
An entire baseball culture evaporated the moment Jeff Keppinger tossed a two-out, ninth-inning ground ball to Craig Brazell (speaking of evaporations) and the Expos lost their last game ever to the Mets. Don’t get me wrong — I was happy the Expos lost to the Mets. I was always happy when the Expos lost to the Mets. But in those final three seasons when Major League baseball in Montreal carried an MLB-mandated death sentence, I was sad we were losing the Expos.
It didn’t feel right. Montreal was not just our divisional rival. They were our spiritual kin. While games were in progress, they might as well have been Padres or Pirates. They were the enemy. But the peripheral stuff appealed to me when I wasn’t worrying about what an Andre Dawson or a Tim Raines or even a John Bocc-a-bella was going to do to us next. I particularly liked the Mets-Expos connection.
• They were expansion like we had been expansion.
• They were named for a World’s Fair while we played next to a World’s Fair.
• They were born bilingual and our first manager spoke fluent Stengelese.
• They wore beanies without propellers while we smushed together blue and orange against a field of pinstripes — and we both looked beautiful as a result.
• We had to send our guys through security to play them up there, and Jeff Kent once got pulled aside by the authorities for carrying a firearm to the airport.
• Jeff Kent had his first reported mental breakdown in the Olympic Stadium visitors clubhouse when his veteran teammates tried the ol’ rookie hazing on him, and Kent — forever winning fiends and influencing people — would not stand for it.
• Youppi and Mr. Met each have loads more personality than Jeff Kent.
This is to say nothing of the player pipeline that spanned the St. Lawrence Seaway south to the Port of Flushing: Rusty Staub, Gary Carter, Ellis Valentine (whoops). There was a lot of action back and forth between the two franchises. The Expos’ first game ever was against the Mets, at Shea (they won). The Expos’ last game ever was against the Mets, at Shea (we won). That 4-3 grounder, Keppinger to Brazell, that ended the Expos’ existence? It was hit by Endy Chavez, former Met farmhand and future Met icon. Endy was acquired for Montreal from New York by Omar Minaya, former New York assistant general manager turned Montreal general manager, a post he held until right before that final Expos series at Shea…when he became New York general manager.
And so it goes. Omar’s still here. Jerry Manuel’s still here. Fernando Tatis is still here. Jason Bay, whom Expo Omar traded to the Mets before Moron Steve traded him to San Diego, has just arrived. So has 2002 Expo first-round draft choice Clint Everts. The Met-Expo link endures more than five years since the Expos went to Washington, which left Montreal to stand in silence as a latter-day Louisville.
Surely you remember the Louisville Colonels. They finished ninth in the twelve-team National League of 1899. Then they were mathematically eliminated forever. Louisville would never again have what we consider major league baseball — National League or, despite the DH, American League. No other standalone city (ahem, Brooklyn) that had an N.L. or A.L. team in the 20th century would be sentenced to a life term with no big league ball. Washington appeared doomed that way for a long while, but they got the Expos. Besides, Washington always seemed destined to get something to make up for their being hosed twice. They did. They got the team that was once beloved by hosers.
It’s for the Canadians who cared and who still might care that I hope Andre Dawson’s plaque shows him as an Expo. He came up as an Expo in September 1976, getting a jump on Steve Henderson for Rookie of the Year the next year and establishing himself as one of the most exciting players and dangerous hitters in North America. Those Expos clubs he and Gary Carter led into pennant races in 1979, 1980 and 1981 (when they clinched their only regular-season crown, the strike-compelled split-season divisional title…at Shea, of course) were ferocious.
They were popular, too. The Expos’ average home gate from 1979 through 1983 always ranked in the top third of league attendance. It wasn’t until the Dawson-Carter-Raines Expos began to fray at the seams like the carpet barely hiding the Big O’s concrete floor that Montreal’s fans began staying away en masse. And it was only once management made clear their entire operation would be permanently threadbare did the Olympic Stadium we remember most vividly — empty and echoey — materialize regularly.
Andre Dawson left the Expos after a decade in Montreal. He was part of the free agent class of 1986-87 that was sideswiped by ownership collusion. The Hawk wound up accepting a below-market, one-year deal from the catbird-seated Cubs — Dawson, so desiring Wrigley’s natural grass as a salve for his turf-battered knees, legendarily signed a blank contract, telling his prospective employers to fill in the amount — and proceeded to tear up the National League from his new perch. He played six seasons in Chicago, the first of them spectacular, most of them fine. The Cubs did for Andre Dawson what the Mets did for Gary Carter: they raised a superstar’s profile to the level where it deserved to be back when that star shone in Quebec.
When the Hall insisted Carter wear an Expos cap on his plaque in 2003, I was disappointed but I understood. There was still a Montreal Expos franchise then, but it was going, going en route to certifiably gone. Kid had a lengthy and worthy track record up there, so it wasn’t an affront to the Mets to present him for posterity as an Expo. I believed there should be something for Expos fans to hang their — and his — hat on.
Now, a second Expo alights in Cooperstown. Andre Dawson is said to prefer the Cubs cap. It wouldn’t be crazy, given the MVP he earned in Chicago in ’87 and his general fearsomeness there through ’92. Plus, the Cubs can hold a press conference to congratulate Dawson. The Expos can’t. The Cubs can have a day for Dawson. The Expos can’t. Cubs fans who cheered for Dawson can perk up some desultory middle inning at Wrigley Field by remembering the time Andre came up and ripped a huge homer to left. Expos fans can’t sit inside Olympic Stadium and do a damn thing.
That’s the best reason I can come up with for Andre Dawson to cast his eternal fate with a defunct franchise. He doesn’t need the Expos, but the Expos could sure use him.