Quite a character

Andre Dawson shares life lessons with Cooperstown school students

October 08, 2010
Hall of Fame Director of Education Anna Wade (right) interviewed Andre Dawson at Cooperstown Central School about character and courage. (Milo Stewart Jr.)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – Baseball players often get painted as talented athletes who are lucky to play ball for a living. What is often overlooked is how hard major leaguers work to get and stay where they are.

Nobody knows that hard work better than Andre Dawson.

With 438 home runs and 314 stolen bases over 21 Hall of Fame seasons in the big leagues, Dawson was obviously a talented athlete, but his body did not always make it easy for him - he had 12 knee surgeries during those 21 seasons. Dawson's character and courage were put on full display during his career because of his passion for the game of baseball.

Dawson was in Cooperstown on Friday to be honored during Character and Courage Weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame. He spent the afternoon at Cooperstown Central Schools talking to students about what these values mean to him.

"My grandmother always taught me you have to be able to look in the mirror at the end of the day and know you've given it your best effort," Dawson said.

The middle school has been learning about courage, caring and cooperation along with their studies this year and Dawson had some wonderful advice to pass along from his experiences.

"When I began playing major league baseball I knew it was not going to be easy," he said. "You're going to bleed, you're going to sweat, you'll have days when you want to throw in the towel. You're going to fail more than you succeed, but you've got to learn from those failures and how to not make those mistakes over again."

While playing for Montreal, Chicago, Boston and Florida, Dawson spent hours in the training room preparing for games getting taped up, rehabbing after injuries and surgeries, and icing down later just to play the game he loved.

"Critics said I wouldn't last four seasons," Dawson said. "But I played 21 seasons and any game could have been it. I tried to leave it all out on the field because I may not be able to play the next day. I couldn't control what happened, but I could control how I reacted to it."

During his 2010 Hall of Fame Induction speech, Dawson thanked his wife Vanessa to be willing to get out of bed and get him ice and pain medication whenever he needed it because he was in two much pain to do it himself. All that time and effort earned Dawson the respect of not only fans, but teammates too.

"No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson," said Ryne Sandberg during his 2005 Hall of Fame Induction speech.

Dawson's passion for the game and incredible work ethic produced eight All-Star Game selections, the 1977 National League Rookie of the Year Award, the 1987 NL Most Valuable Player Award and a legion of fans who adored his all-out effort on every play. But despite all of his success, he remains a modest grinder who always dreamed of playing baseball.

"I only wanted to be a professional baseball player. You need to work hard to play at that level and succeed at that level," Dawson said. "I was never voted most likely to succeed but people always said I had a lot of drive and potential. But I just thought I was blessed with a special gift and wanted to make the most of it."

Samantha Carr is the manager of web and digital media for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum