Andre Dawson has been elected to the Hall of Fame, and I’m of two minds about this. As an Expos fan, I naturally have some affection for Andre Dawson. On the other hand, I started following the Expos in 1985, when he only had two more seasons with the team, not very good ones at that. And while Dawson was certainly a terrific player in his prime, and had a better career overall than a number of other Hall of Famers (including recent HoF inductee Jim Rice), he certainly was not a better player than his fellow Expo Tim Raines, who only got 30% of the vote this year — and that was a better-than-usual showing for him. I know I’ve beaten the Raines drum before, but come on: Dawson’s lifetime on-base percentage was .323; in a similar number of games, Raines’s OBP was .385. Dawson had more RBIs, but guess who he was driving in a lot of the time?
That stat sort of sums up Dawson: he was a great player at everything except the most important thing a player can do, getting on base. Bill James — who also wrote a memorable takedown of Dawson’s MVP selection in 1987, one of the most undeserved awards of the era — wrote in the mid-’80s that he would rank first at his position “if he didn’t insist on swinging at 3-and-1 pitches no matter where they are.” In 1983, playing almost every game, he only drew 26 walks that weren’t intentional, so despite having one of his best seasons, he had a poor OBP — which, more tangibly, means he made a whole lot of outs.
This is not to say he wasn’t a great player in his prime. In 1983, his triple crown stats look (by today’s standards) merely good: .299 average, 32 homers, 113 RBI. But they’re much more impressive than they look. Batting stats were lower across the board in 1983 (especially in the National League), and Olympic Stadium was a poor hitter’s park at the time. Dale Murphy won the MVP award that year, but Dawson’s performance in road games was much, much better than Murphy’s; if he and Murphy had both been playing in the same park, it would have been clear that Dawson was a better hitter. (The reason his power numbers exploded in 1987 was that he moved from Olympic Stadium to Wrigley Field, and at the same time, home run numbers had a huge one-year spurt all over the league. So he went from having his numbers severely deflated to having them inflated, even though he wasn’t anywhere near as good a hitter as he had once been.) Throw in his speed (until he got knee problems), his throwing arm, and his status as a respected team-leader type, and you’ve got a very fine player. There are lots of non-HoF-ers who are better, but he’ll be in there with lots of players who weren’t as good.