Hall of Famer Andre Dawson was almost a Royal
Hall of Famer talks about his near-miss with the Royals Academy in the early ’70s.By RANDY COVITZ
The Kansas City Star
Imagine this outfield for the Royals in the late 1970s … Willie Wilson, Amos Otis and Andre Dawson.
Picture this outfield for the Royals in the late 1980s … Bo Jackson, Willie Wilson and Andre Dawson.
Could have happened. Should have happened.
Dawson, a future Hall of Famer, wanted it to happen when he enrolled in the Royals Academy after his senior year at Southwest High School in Miami. But the Royals didn’t see a big-league future for Dawson.
Dawson told the story at Saturday’s FanFest:
“When I was in high school, I was introduced to a guy who told me about the Royals Academy,” Dawson said of the now-defunct facility in Fort Myers, Fla., that trained young players and produced the likes of Frank White and Ron Washington.
“It was just after I had my knee surgery in football. I went out on a fluke to see what it was about. I was one of about 60 kids participating, but only one of four invited for the final day. I talked to a scout who worked for the Academy, and he said, ‘You’re probably not going to make the Academy because you didn’t run the 60-(yard dash) fast enough.’ ”
Dawson thought his time was sufficient, considering he was still wearing a protective knee brace. But he was not invited back by the Royals and decided to enroll at Florida A&M, from which he was taken by the Montreal Expos in the 11th round of the 1975 draft.
Dawson, nicknamed The Hawk for the way he stalked fly balls in the outfield, would go on to win Rookie of the Year and MVP honors in the National League; was an eight-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove winner with the Expos and Cubs; and after a 21-year career that included stops in Boston and Florida, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010.
And he could have been a Royal, but for a few tenths of a second in the 60.
“I told my grandmother that I had an opportunity to make the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy,” Dawson said. “She was adamant about me going to college … but the way it worked at the Academy, you go to school in the mornings and you practice and play games in the evenings.
“She said, ‘No, that doesn’t sound right. You’re going to college.’ So I didn’t have to explain to her had they actually wanted me to sign ….”
Dawson spent 11 seasons with the Expos, and he and the late Gary Carter are the only Montreal players in the Hall of Fame. Even though the Expos departed for Washington, D.C., in 2005, Dawson’s and Carter’s retired jerseys hang in the rafters of the NHL Montreal Canadiens’ arena.
Dawson battled knee injuries throughout his career, enduring 12 knee surgeries that forced him to eventually move from center field to right field. So after the 1986 season, the Expos offered him a pay cut.
Dawson, who thought he’d retire as an Expo, considered two other teams which had natural grass, Atlanta, which was closest to his family, and the Chicago Cubs.
“I always longed at playing in Wrigley Field … the fans in right field would overwhelm me … and they had (broadcaster) Harry Caray,” he said. “They were a few years removed from postseason play, and I thought I’d be a natural fit. And I enjoyed daytime baseball, also.”
To convince the Cubs to sign him, Dawson made the unprecedented move of presenting the club with a blank contract and let it fill in the salary. The contract included incentives for making the All-Star team, leading the league in home runs and winning the MVP.
He accomplished all three in 1987. He started the All-Star Game. He won the MVP despite playing for a last-place team — the only time that has been accomplished. And he led the league with 49 home runs with 137 RBIs.
“It was a career year,” Dawson said. “The only way I could win the MVP award was playing in the States. I finished runner-up twice, once to Dale Murphy and once to Mike Schmidt while playing with the Expos.”