Dawson loomed large in era that produced few legendary players
This will be about
There are much deeper emotions tied to the Baseball Hall of Fame, I think, then for the other Halls. Questions like why
Same is true in basketball. If I gave you a list of 10 people --
But baseball is different. There have been groups trying to get
Emotion. But why? I suppose that part of it is that baseball probably is more connected to its history than other sports. That's obvious. I suppose that part of it is that baseball is such a number driven sport and so it's more tempting to compare players through the decades. I'm not sure how anyone other than the great
But I can tell very easily -- and from a thousand different angles -- compare the numbers of
I think that leads into the main point ... something about timelessness and childhood and heroes. Baseball (alone, I think, among big-time American sports) can give a child the illusion that he/she is watching the sport at it's very best -- better than it was ever played before, better than it will ever be played again. I don't think that children of the 1950s or 1960s or 1970s can honestly say that the quality of football was BETTER then than it is now. I mean the players were so much smaller and slower than now. Same goes with basketball. The golfers of the 1960s may have been better than he golfers now, but they were using much different equipment and playing much shorter courses. The tennis players of the 1970s may have been more fun, but with their wood rackets and Pong-like rallies, they were playing a very different game from today.*
But baseball endures. Many people will tell you that
Yes, baseball bows to its history -- and it allows us to stay forever young. It allows times to stand still. Here, for example, were the Top 25 players of the 20th Century according to the Society of Baseball Research (this was done in 1999) -- I try to break them up by the time period when they were stars:
That's it. One guy in the last 25 years. Now, of course, it's tough to judge the time you are living in -- and I'm sure that if we extended things to 2009, the group would put
The lull of great players seems at its apex from about 1975 to 1987 or so -- which just so happens to be my childhood. The truth is, there just weren't many legendary players during my childhood -- no Ruth, no Mays, no Feller, no Gibson, no Williams.
But mostly it was a time for disappointment.
Well, wait a minute: We can't just accept that, can we? I mean: This is what I mean about baseball and childhood. We cannot just accept that, for various reasons, our time was devoid of legends. Our parents had Willie, Mickey and the Hank, their parents had Williams and DiMaggio and Musial, their parents had Gehrig and Ruth and Hornsby. Our kids had Bonds and Maddux and Unit and Pedro and Pujols. Where were our legends?
And I think that's why the last few Hall of Fame ballots have been about how we want to remember our time.
And then, the knees did go bad -- probably from those years playing on that miserable Montreal turf. And he stopped being quite so awesome. Yes, in 1987 he gave the Chicago Cubs a blank contract and told them to fill in the numbers, and then he played as if possessed and mashed 49 home runs and drove in 137 runs. The baseball writers were so awed they gave Dawson the MVP even though the Cubs were in last place. The managers gave Dawson the Gold Glove even though he couldn't move anymore. That was nice.
But, no, Dawson probably wasn't a great player by then. The numbers were part illusion -- the ball was juiced that year and so was Wrigley Field. He was 12th in the league in OPS+. On the road, he hit .246. Well, he was just not the player he had been. Dawson hit for lower batting averages and hardly ever walked in those days and so his on-base percentages were annually below even the league average. But it's like his defenders would shout later: "Who cares about on-base percentage?" Or: "If the Hawk wanted to walk, he could have walked, that wasn't his job." Or: "You just had to see him play."
Dawson never stopped playing hard, and he always had that aura. He was the Hawk. We needed him. Our TIME needed him.
And so now he's in the Hall of Fame, and even though I did not vote for him I'm very happy for him. I'm happy for my childhood. Dawson at his best was a truly great player. And that's the way we want to remember him ... and our childhood.