On the departure of Andre Dawson and the death of childhood dreams
I had just turned 13 the winter when Andre Dawson left Chicago, and his departure was beyond befuddling - it was astonishing. It was absurd.
He was a man who helped define an era of Cubs baseball. He came to Chicago with a breaking body and a blank check, telling then-GM Dallas Green to fill out whatever he thought was appropriate. He then proceeded to earn the nickname "Awesome," hitting 49 homeruns and driving in 137 RBI in both his first year as a Cub and my first year as a fan. He became the MVP of the entire National League while playing for a last place ball team.
It's hard to describe how closely I aligned myself with his career. I batted like him. I played the outfield like him. If I ever had achy knees, I'd think "just like Andre!" as if that was something to be excited or happy about. I collected his baseball cards the way that magpies collect objects that shine.
Andre Dawson wasn't just a part of my childhood experience following the Cubs, he defined it. He was A Cub, capital A, capital C, tied and true through and through. In 1992, I was coping with my third year of having lived away from home, learning of the Cubs scores only because of Baseball Weekly, and I was certainly aware that, at the age of 37, maybe the man with the bad knees - if they could even be called knees anymore - was winding down. He batted .277, up from his previous year's performance, but his homerun and RBI totals were down - he only hit 22 and drove in 90. But he was also only one homerun away from the 400th of his career. How cool would it have been for Dawson to reach that milestone in a Cubs uniform on a cold day in April? How awesome would it have been?
But it didn't happen, Larry Himes chased him out of town for the chance to elevate the selfish-but-talented Sammy Sosa, and I learned for the first time in my life that my favorite player will not always retire as a member of my favorite team.
Surely you know by where I'm going with this.
Jim Hendry announced today that the Cubs were cutting ties with Kerry Wood. Hendry is quoted saying "I think we all feel that Kerry is certainly deserving of a three- or four-year contract. He’s done everything this organization has asked for the last 14 years, been a warrior the last couple of years... we felt it was time Kerry goes out and does what’s best for him and his family, and gets a huge multi-year deal if possible."
You could probably take everything I wrote about Dawson and say the same thing about Wood. Just switch "knees" with "shoulder and elbow," and you might see a parallel. In some ways, I think it's easier - I was especially attached to Dawson because he'd essentially been there from the first day that I was a Cub fan. In some ways, it's harder - Wood was pretty much born a Cub. He's been pitching with a C on his hat since before he stopped growing. If we've had conversations about players we thought would retire as Cubs, Wood surely would have appeared at the top of any lists made.
But I guess that this is a life lesson. We aren't children forever. Sooner or later, we grow up and experience loss. We also experience gains, discoveries, and more. Losing Kerry Wood is certainly disappointing, maybe even heart-breakingly so. But in baseball, like in life, it's bound to happen eventually, the machine keeps moving, and there will always be other players out there who will grab our imagination the way that Wood did more than a decade ago.
It's like with Andre Dawson. He's been gone from Chicago for 16 years. He's now a man in his 50's, more than a decade removed from his last exploit, his final heroic play. Even the selfish bastard who replaced him is gone. This is life, and let it be a reminder to enjoy it more while we have it. So, I guess the moral of the story is this: the next time the Cubs leave you seething with disappointment, maybe leave a little extra room for appreciation. Carlos Zambrano will not always be here. Aramis Ramirez will be gone long before most of us are. Geovany Soto, the Rookie of the Year, will be gone in the blink of an eye.
Appreciate. Otherwise the Cubs are just a bunch of faceless guys in pyjamas, and who wants to watch that, even if they win?