Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Hall of Fame Talk

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A tale of two hitters -- revisited

Editor's Note: This article was originally written way back on January 8th of this year.  In light of Andre Dawson's admission into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, we thought it might be appropriate to republish it -- especially since we know that about half of you don't read the blogs every day in the winter time, and could have missed it

A Tale of Two Hitters
As he stood before the throng of reporters and flashing cameras, Andre Dawson said something yesterday that I'd never known about him.  He spoke of his mother, who died in 2006.

From the article: She would have been 71, but she died in May 2006.

"I just wanted to thank her," Dawson said Thursday. "I went to her grave site. I prayed and thanked her for the job she did as a mother, father and big sister to me. She probably was my best friend."

Dawson was born in 1954 to Mattie Brown, then a single, 16-year-old girl who, along with his grandmother, went on to raise him into the person he is today.  Probably no baseball fan truly knows the player he's cheering (or booing), and I certainly wasn't aware of that part of the Hawk's story.  But what I do know about him is this: he was a cherished man in Chicago, a consummate professional admired by his teammates and worshiped by his fans.  It seems then that, like Dawson, we owe Mattie Brown a debt of gratitude.

Contrast that with Milton Bradley, who shares more than a few incidental similarities with Dawson.  According to Alan Schwartz of ESPN, Bradley was born in 1978 to Charlina Rector, who by then was already a single mother of four.  Bradley's father Milton Sr. -- whose name he passed onto his son while Rector was still unconscious from having given birth -- was a cocaine addict who'd left Rector several months previous.  Bradley's mother raised and tried to protect him from the world and from his abusive father, and like Dawson the circumstances of his birth directed him to become the person he is today.  Perhaps at home, away from the scrutinizing baseball fans who have heckled him, Bradley is a good husband and father -- i.e. everything his father wasn't -- but on the field he is an antagonistic, confrontational player despised by the fans and ambivalent to his teammates.

Dawson's grandmother -- who died before he reached the majors -- convinced him to go to university.  Bradley went into the draft straight from high school.  Both men were selected by the same team -- the Expos picked Dawson in the 11th round of the 1975 draft, Bradley was chosen in the 2nd round of the 1996 draft.  Dawson kept his nose down and excelled with a focus "that was never seen for somebody (his) age," (hence his nickname, "The Hawk"), Bradley grew to mistrust authority figures and was suspended multiple times for antics like poking umpires and spitting on them. 

By the time Dawson was 22 years old, he was playing in Montreal full-time.  He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1977, for having slugged 19 homeruns and batted .282 while stealing 21 bases.  Bradley struggled in his early years in Montreal, resulting in his first of many trades.  He was sent to the Indians at 23, and he didn't really start to light it up until 2003 when he batted .321 in 101 games played.

Eventually, the Hawk wore himself down in Montreal.  He spent a decade in the French-Canadian city, destroying his knees on the hard artificial turf even as he collected 6 Gold Gloves, 3 All Star appearances, and 2 runner-up MVP finishes.  Then, at the age of 32, in order to preserve his career, Dawson landed in Chicago for a pittance - a 1-year contract for $500,000.

Bradley, meanwhile, suffered a variety of leg injuries as well, although he more wore out his welcome than wore himself down.  After 2 full seasons in Cleveland -- which including incidents in which he was scolded by Cleveland manager Charlie Manuel for a lack of professionalism -- he finally exhausted the Indians' patience in the Spring Training of 2004 and was dealt to Los Angeles. 

He played there for two turbulent seasons -- which included even more tantrums and suspensions -- before being dealt to the Athletics.  Then Oakland designated him for assignment on July 21st, 2007, and the Padres picked him up.  With the Padres, Bradley provided a brief jolt to the San Diego offense before blowing out an ACL in the final week of the season while being restrained from confronting an umpire.  He then signed a one-year-deal with the Texas Rangers, where he reportedly informed the team late in the 2008 season that he'd be sitting out games so as to not risk injury and deflate his chances of receiving an impressive contract offer that winter.  Then, at the age of 31, Bradley landed in Chicago for an exorbitant sum of money -- $30 million for 3 years.

Dawson's time in Chicago was nothing short of glorious.  In his first year with the Cubs, the Hawk won the MVP award for a last place team while slugging 49 homeruns and driving in 137 RBI -- all for $500,000, a sum that would have insulted most stars.  He did it on two bad knees -- for which he'd have more than 20 operations on over the span of his life -- and without complaint.  As a result, the fans loved him.  They bowed to him in the outfield, chanting "Awesome Dawson" whenever he made an outstanding offensive or defensive play.  They wore his jersey.  They worshiped him.

At his Hall of Fame press conference, Dawson said this about Cub fans, and in light of recent seasons and recent accusations by various acquisitions, one can't help but wonder if his comments were directed at some people:

"I'll tell you, going to Wrigley Field, playing in the Friendly Confines amongst the Cubs fans, that was amazing in itself.

"That really rejuvenated my career, I think, and put me at a point in time where I was unsure about myself in the game, and how much longer I was going to stay in the game. The way the Cubs fan embraced me that first year pretty much propelled me on to win the National League MVP award and I owe that organization a lot for believing in me.

"They didn't really meet the demands initially, but I just felt that since I played in a media center, I played somewhere where the fans really took a hold and adored me, and made me really want to go out and want to be, not a crowd-pleaser, but to not embarrass them and just give it what they expect day-in and day-out."

Bradley's time in Chicago was nothing more than tumultuous.  He started out slowly and was booed for his effort -- or lack thereof.  In the first year of his contract (in which he'd signed with the expectation of delivering a run-producing bat in the middle of the order) Bradley batted .257 and hit 12 homeruns while driving in 40.  He described his experience with Cub fans as this:

"It's just not a positive environment. I need a stable, healthy, enjoyable environment. There's too many people everywhere in your face with a microphone asking the same questions repeatedly. Everyone is just bashing you. You go out there and play harder than anybody on the field and never get credit for it. It's just negativity. ... And you understand why they haven't won in 100 years here, because it's negative. It's what it is." 

It turns out, according to Bradley, that Cub fans are not welcoming.  They are not the loving group of fans that cheered for Andre Dawson two decades earlier.  They are instead racist:

"I'm talking about hatred, period. I'm talking about when I go to eat at a restaurant, I have to listen to the waiters bad-mouthing me at another table, sitting in a restaurant, that's what I'm talking about -- everything."

As a result of a season of confrontations, harsh words, and disrespectful actions, Bradley was suspended on September 20th by Jim Hendry and dealt to the Mariners in the off-season.  He wasn't even able to last a single year with the Cubs.

It's doubtful that they've ever met, but I wonder what Andre Dawson and Milton Bradley would make of each other if they did.  Would Bradley see in Dawson a sell-out, a man who submerged his well-justified rage in order to get along with people who couldn't possibly understand the past that drives him?  Would Dawson see in Bradley a lost cause, a talented athlete who was never able to overcome his greater demons despite the support of a loving wife and the love of a doting mother?

Whatever would happen, Cub fans have now experienced polar opposites.  We've had the talented hitting right fielder who played hurt and was a consummate professional, and we've seen the talented hitting right fielder who lived his life hurt and was consumed by his anger.  If possible, Bradley may have served in at least one positive role -- he's helped us remember and appreciate Dawson even more.

Mattie Brown has been dead for more than three years.  She never had the chance to see her son honored by the Hall of Fame, but she surely knew it was coming.  She raised her son right.  Charlina Rector probably did everything in her power to raise her son right, too.  Rather than condemning Rector for failing, let's instead praise Brown for succeeding.  It's never easy to be a single parent, whether you are 16 when your child is born as Brown was, or already a mother of four as Rector was.  For the unlikely success that he's had over the span of his life and baseball career, we should appreciate Dawson even more.  He was clearly deserving of our adoration, whether he was trying to be a crowd-pleaser or not.

And Montreal is ... uh, overjoyed?

Not too surprisingly, the Hall of Fame has dropped the ball on the hat Andre Dawson will be wearing when he's inducted this summer. 

Although the Hawk spent the majority of his career in Montreal, it isn't really debatable as to what city he had his greatest impact in -- Chicago.  But ignoring all of that, ignoring that Dawson wouldn't have become a Hall of Famer had it not been for his time in a Cubs uniform, the simple facts are these:

The city of Montreal does not care about the Expos.  The former Expos organization -- now the Nationals -- does not care about the guys who played for the Expos.  Andre Dawson wants to be a Cub in the Hall of Fame.  The City of Chicago loves him, honors him, and would probably even obey him if he started throwing out the occasional decree.  The Cubs organization recognizes him as being one of the most identifiable players to wear the Big Red C in the past quarter century or more. 

The Hall of Fame, meanwhile, is supposed to be an organization that does not focus solely on the statistics.  Dawson's hard numbers are evidence that he could be recognized for his service as an Expo, but his character was best displayed in his time with the Cubs, and his impact was most seen during those six seasons in Chicago.  So why would the Hall essentially overlook those facts to honor an organization that doesn't deserve it against the wishes of the player being honored as well as the wishes of just about every person who has a passionate opinion on the subject?

That's a question I'll be asking often for the next little while.  Sadly, an easy answer doesn't appear to be evident.  Oh well.  But hey -- the Expos uniform sure looks cool, eh?

The Hat on the Hawk

(Editor's note: in case you missed it, we ran A Tale of Two Hitters on Friday night.  If you read only one GROTA article that I've written, ever, it should be that one.  Go read it if you haven't)

By now, we've probably all heard the big debate -- should Andre Dawson enter the Hall of Fame as an Expo or a Cub?  For Cub fans it's a particularly interesting point -- obviously we love Dawson and want to see him in a Cubs hat, even if Chicago isn't the "deserving" team.  Compounded on that is the recent story that the Cubs would retire Dawson's number were he to be inducted as a Cub -- compared in stark contrast with the former Expos organization, who unretired his jersey when they moved to Washington.  Ignoring personal feelings and biases, there are points to consider on both sides.

  • Dawson spent a decade in Montreal, where he played in 1,443 games.  He collected 1,575 of his 2,774 career hits as an Expo, 225 of his 438 homeruns, 838 of his 1,591 RBI, and 253 of his 314 career steals.  He won 6 of his 8 Gold Gloves in the Montreal outfield, and 3 of his 4 Silver Sluggers. 
  • Dawson's best season was with the Cubs, in 1987, when he slugged 49 homeruns and drove in 137 RBI.  In fact, he hit 174 homeruns as a Cub -- that's 51 less than his Montreal production in 2,366 fewer at bats.  Dawson had a higher OPS as a Cub (despite not arriving there until after his physical prime) and he was a 5 time All Star (compared to only 3 trips to the All Star Game as an Expo). 
  • Dawson says he wants to go in as a Cub.  He says Chicago is responsible for his career's resurgence and he attributes Cub fans for their support as the motivation for him to keep playing on disintegrating knees. 

Still, despite the Hawk's desires, it seems to be a no-brainer that he should be an Expo.  When the Hall of Fame puts a hat on a player, it tends to be the hat he wore the most in his career.  But there are a few other compelling reasons as to why he should wear the Big Red C.

On top of Dawson's own desire to go in as a Cub -- which should carry a lot of weight -- the Montreal organization has essentially rejected him.  The Nationals do not really acknowledge their pre-existence as the Expos.  As mentioned earlier, they unretired Dawson's jersey and do not have any days in which they honor their former Expos.

In the city of Montreal, they do not have any Veterans Days.  They don't celebrate the Expos.  The fans are ambivalent-at-best.  In other words, it would mean nothing to them if the Hall of Fame enshrined the Hawk with the Curvy Red E.   

In Chicago, Dawson remains worshiped, loved, and cherished.  In the years that he's been gone, right field has been patrolled by a 600-homerun-hitting monster, an Asian Sensation, a rage-filled douchebag, and an assortment of cast-offs.  None have had the staying power of the Hawk.  It would mean everything to the Cub fans and the Chicago organization if the Hall of Fame put that Red C on his plaque. 

In other words, while enshrining Dawson as an Expo would be historically accurate -- yes, he spent more years there and accumulated many of his accomplishments -- it wouldn't mean anything to anybody.  It would pay backhanded tribute to an organization that did not deserve it while ignoring the desires of the player being honored. 

Besides -- and this is also important -- if Dawson hadn't come to Chicago, he wouldn't have become a Hall of Famer.  It's simple and it's true.  Look at the numbers from his previous three seasons before coming to Chicago: 407 games played, a .262 AVG, 60 homeruns, 255 RBI, these are not the numbers of a Hall of Famer in the prime of his career, and yet they were exactly that.  When Dawson came to Chicago, he arrived as a player on the decline looking for a few more years before calling it a day on his career.  When he departed Chicago six years later, he left as a future Hall of Famer.

Therefore, without bias, Dawson should be a Cub in Cooperstown. 

Sammy Sosa still belongs in the Hall of Fame

A memo to Jason: I know how strongly you disagree with Rob's strong distaste of Sammy.  Feel free to tack onto this article, or write another one of your own.

A memo to Rob: Telling people from my generation about your hatred of Sammy Sosa is probably on the same level as telling children that Santa Claus may not be everything that he's cracked up to be.

Still, a few weeks ago I penned this piece about Sammy as he officially announced his retirement: Sammy Sosa belongs in the Hall of Fame.  The premise of the piece is that, as he was never caught cheating, Sammy's induction should be a no-brainer.

Then it turns out he was caught in 2003.  Whoops.  It's probably a safe bet that he was caught fairly early on, hence his turn to cork.  But you know what?  Sammy still belongs in the Hall.  And despite all his short-comings, he is still a great Cub, one who we'll remember for a long time for a bunch of reasons.

Probably the best thing I said in that previous article: I don't necessarily subscribe to the notion that we are born flawed but I certainly agree that our life makes us that way rather quickly.  Heroes have dark sides.  Villains can be charitable.  And Sammy Sosa was a long-time flawed hero who played the charitable villain brilliantly. 

That was Sammy.  He was selfish, self-aggrendizing, and self-important.  He alienated Mark Grace, and Ryne Sandberg, and Don Baylor (maybe we can forgive him the last one).  He hit epic homeruns, took epic upper-cuts, and stole bases to the frustration of his teammates.  He talked about money in the clubhouse and during the game whether the Cubs were winning or losing.  He blasted his boom box and it was eventually smashed to pieces.  He evaporated in September of '04 and was as responsible for the team's collapse as Dusty, taking massive missed swings when short ones contacting the ball into the shallow outfield would've got the job done. 

He was never my favorite player -- in fact, he replaced my favorite player.  But his jersey was the first I ever owned.  I still have it in my closet, unworn since 2002 because it was washed and worn to the point of oblivion. 

Anyway, Rob, the point is this: I get why you don't like him.  You want the guy who will play selflessly, who will throw himself at fly balls, who will throw down a surprise bunt with runners in scoring position, who will rally a team through both his words and actions.  But I do think that you take it too far because I remember clearly what he did on the field to win, and while it doesn't erase his numerous, flagarant flaws it does allow for me to remember him fondly. 

So, now we know for a fact that he cheated, as if that changes anything from when we only knew without proof that he cheated.  File this one under "unpopular opinions of Kurt," but I don't really care.  Every guy to hit 500 or more homeruns since the 80's cheated, maybe with the exception of Ken Griffey Jr.  Big deal.

The point is that in an era where everybody cheated, Sosa was still head and shoulders better than most of the rest.  I guess the implication is that he either had the best trainer or he would've still been better than the rest had nobody ever discovered steroids. 

And yes, with apologies to your assertations to the contrary, Sosa's homeruns and RBI were not empty calories.  As much as the Cubs clearly couldn't do it with him alone -- see 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 -- they also couldn't have done it without him -- see 1998, 2003.  Sosa's contributions were huge.  His Nintendo numbers will never be duplicated.  His enthusiasm and play will never be forgotten ... nor will his ego and selfishness.

Anyway, I would respectfully suggest Rob that you take comfort in this one fact that was true in 2003, was true a month ago, and is true now: he is not, nor was he ever Mr. Cub.  He was never, nor would he ever be loved more than Banks, or Sandberg, or even Grace and Wood.  Our organization's marquee player is not a cheater.  But one of the best we ever saw was, and his positive test from 2003 does nothing to change the amazing things he did.

And with that, like you, I'll leave this one in the past ... until his eligibility comes up (or his loud denials of cheating, whichever comes first).

Ernie Banks, Friend of Science

(All photos by Leah Welty-Rieger)

I know I’ve earned a certain level of fame through my award winning blogging, but despite this I'm sometimes still surprised at the perks that come my way. So you can imagine I was a little surprised when I received my invitation to a private wine tasting with Mr Cub, Ernie Banks (this is where I pretend that I was the only Cub blogger to receive an invitation to the event (my world is a magical place where the deli sells unicorn bacon and I have rhythm)).

I jumped at the opportunity to attend because, come on, it’s Ernie Banks. I knew it would probably be a big event with a few other former Cubs, maybe a famous press guy or two, and a bunch of random people with better clothes and more money than me (that or Zambrano jerseys and slack jaws, it could have gone either way). That makes sense, right?

You might think that, but you’d be wrong. So, so wrong. Here's what really happened...

We arrive and give them our name and we are escorted into a room slightly larger than my freshman year dorm. Of course we were a half hour early (my wife, hired as the official GROTA photographer, or grotographer, has a sickness), so it was me and The Wife, a couple radio reporters, and Ernie and his wife. And that was it. In a little tiny room. And I’m just standing there, pee trickling down my pant leg which I guess makes this the time when we play the game of “Which One of These Does Not Belong”. So we got our wine, hugged the wall, and watched.

But Ernie was having none of that. I mean, he’s Ernie Banks. He walked over and introduced himself (because that was totally necessary) and asked who we were. He asked if my wife was my sister. I assured him she wasn’t. He asked me to prove it.

What a card.

And thus, with a joke from Ernie, the ice was broken and we had a nice little conversation. We informed him that we were physicists from Fermilab (I’m not sure how it didn’t come out that I had recently graduated and sold out but we just ran with it) and we were in. From then on that night, we were his “physicist friends.” Score. During a conversation with a reporter he'd asked if they had meet his "physicist friends. Double Score.

And so the night progress and we enjoyed the wine while watching Ernie circulate and give interviews to the various TV and radio stations. As for us, we were happy with just having spent a night meeting Ernie and drinking free wine.

**Wine Interlude**

Regarding the wine, I throughly enjoyed it. Ernie chose to go with a Chardonnay for his line which I’m told has pinneaple and vanilla notes and, once I was told this, I totally agreed. I mean, I’m not a wine expert. I tend to prefer quantity over quality as evidenced by the regular purchase of a Yellow Tail double bottle, but if you tell me something tastes like pineapple, I’ll taste it.

And while I usually prefer red over white (wine, that is), this was an extremely tasty little drink. *puts on sommelier hat* Unlke most chardonnays , this isn’t a dry white. It’s extremely drinkable and would be great on a hot summer day. Perhaps while watching a baseball game? The Cubs, perhaps?

Perhaps.

The wine will retail for $17 with a portion of the proceeds going to Ernie’s charity Live Above and Beyond, a charity to eliminate prejudice, support programs that enhance neighborhoods and relieve discrimination among various age groups and races. This wine will be available in May at Binnys, Sam’s Wine and Spirits, Whole Foods, and Sunset Foods. Buy it, get drunk, and help people.

It’s all about people helping people.

***End Wine Interlude***

And so you might think that’s all that happened that night, but you’d be wrong. So very, very wrong. So wrong that it makes you kind of dumb and makes me a little embarrassed for you. Maybe you should go stand in the corner for a few minutes to atone for your wrongness.

Back? Okay. I’m sorry if I was a little harsh there.

About an hour into the event one of the organizers, Brett, asked if I had had a chance to speak with Ernie and ask him a few questions. I replied that I hadn’t but my mind was moving a little more quickly than that. You see, I’m not a reporter (obviously). Unlike most bloggers, I don’t even aspire to be a pretend reporter. Hell, I only learned to write last week. So, I had no real expectations that I would get a chance to ask questions and thus hadn’t prepared any. Um, oops.

Luckily my brilliance is only surpassed by my modesty (kidding*), so I was able to formulate a little set of questions. And so when Brett brought me over to Mr. Cubs, I was ready(ish). Ernie was his usual gracious self and suggested we head over to the couch where we could get away from the crowd and talk. Cool beans. And by "cool beans" I mean "Holyshit I get to talk to Mr. Cub!"

I thought the best way to start the little mini interview would be to talk about the wine. I mean, that’s why I was invited., right? Unfortunately, I don’t think Ernie wanted to talk about the wine. I think he was all wine-talked out. But we both agreed that it was a good wine for a summer game and then I quickly shifted gears to baseball. When asked about what he thought about the season and how the Cubs would do, this is what he had to say.

"The fans this year are having a satisfied feeling about baseball. They feel the success of the team. They feel the trial and tribulations of the team. The feel confusion about the team. They believe their's no division. Not in the manager, not in the front office, and not in the players. No division. These people got it.

I'm a member of the west side social club where we are capturing the spirit of 1908 and they made me chairman. The last chairman was Joe Tinker. He didn't miss a game.

I'm exicited about this year. The energy level is very high. The managers and players know when enough is enough. It's time to win. It's time for the Cubs to win. We're not putting it on the Cubs player and managers, but it's time to win. It's time for Cubs to Win. It's time to win this World Series. Time for the Cubs to Win."

Suffice to say, it’s going to be a good season.

But that wasn’t the end of our talk. He motioned my wife over to talk and so I offered to take a picture of the two of them together (being the photographer, my wife never gets to be in the pictures), but Ernie wanted none of that. He felt that there were too many pictures taken with all these digital cameras these day and that nobody just talked. He just wanted to get to know people. So we talked about our neighborhood, the Ukranian Village - the location, the food, and the culture. Our time was technically up, but he didn’t seem to care and we weren’t about to end the conversation ourselves. Finally we were pulled away, but not until we’d gotten to talk to Mr. Banks for a full 10 minutes, the longest of any reporter (or fake reporter) at the event.

It’s pretty sweet being Ernie’s Physicist friends. I knew I went into physics for a reason.

And thus the night came to a close. Sure, if could have been just a stupid press event, but because of the generosity of Ernie Banks, it ended up being a great, great night.

Now go buy some wine.

And Go Cubs.

* I'm not kidding

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