(Check out our other player card posts here.)

Heading into the 1986 offseason, long-time collectors might have been forgiven for feeling a bit of misty-eyed nostalgia when they happened across an Andre Dawson baseball card.

Up until that point, The Hawk had spent his entire 11-year career with the Montreal Expos, but we knew there was little chance that Dawson would finish his playing days in Olympic Stadium.

1980 Topps Andre Dawson

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That’s because, less than a month after the New York Mets put the finishing touches on their amazing comeback victory over the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series, Andre Dawson became a free agent for the first time ever.

And while it was technically possible that he could re-sign with the Expos, it was unlikely for several reasons:

  • His knees were bad after years of playing right field on artificial turf.
  • Those balky knees had limited Hawk to 130 games in 1986, and he didn’t make it to 140 in either 1984 or 1985.
  • The Expos were in no hurry to get rid of the turf.
  • Dawson would turn 33 years old in July of 1987.
  • The Expos had already shown a willingness to let their superstars depart when they traded catcher Gary Carter to the Mets after the 1984 season.
  • There were plenty of teams who would cough up big bucks for a potential future Hall of Famer like Dawson, old and creaky or not.

So Dawson hit the open market, and we wondered what his 1987 Topps Traded and Fleer Update cards would look like.

Except … a funny thing happened to Dawson on his way out of Canada.

Nobody was buying.

In what we would later find out was the second year of collusion among Major League Baseball owners, free agents languished on the shelf all through the winter. Tim Raines, Ron Guidry, Doyle Alexander, and Rich Gedman ended up re-signing with their prior teams after missing part of the 1987 season, and Jack Morris landed in salary arbitration with the Detroit Tigers.

Dawson, meanwhile, watched the months tick by — November … December … January … February.

By that time, teams had headed south to prepare for the 1987 season, and Dawson was feeling desperate.

He didn’t want to return to Montreal and their rock-hard turf, and the Expos weren’t making any heroic overtures, anyway.

So The Hawk took a look at the baseball landscape, decided where he thought his best fit would be, and took control of his own situation.

On March 2, 1987, Dawson and his agent, Dick Moss, showed up at the Chicago Cubs‘ Spring Training complex in Mesa, Arizona, to plead their case to general manager Dallas Green.

1987 Donruss Opening Day Andre Dawson

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Green was not all that interest in shelling out big bucks for Dawson, feeling he’d already been burned by escalating salaries when he signed Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Trout, Scott Sanderson, and Dennis Eckersley to multi-year contracts that had yet to pay off with a World Series appearance (and only one playoff berth).

But Dawson would not be deterred, and he had no intention of missing any more action.

So, he essentially signed his name to a blank contract and told Green to fill in whatever amount he deemed fair.

Even Green later admitted that the $500,000 base salary wasn’t exactly fair to Dawson but maintained it was all the Cubs could afford at the time. The contract also came with about $200,000 worth of performance bonuses.

Apparently motivated by his slighting at the hands of other teams, his insulting base contract, the incentives in the contract, or — most likely — all of those, Dawson put together an astounding 1987 season that shone the spotlight on his cruddy deal and put him right back into consideration for the title of “best player in the game.”

That’s what collecting 49 home runs, 137 RBI, and 353 total bases while playing for a last-place team will do for you. It will also earn you some hardware, as Dawson found out when he was named National League MVP that November.

And so it happened that, during the original “Year of the Home Run,” no one was more homer-happy than Dawson, and collectors took notice.

We pulled out his Expos cards and fawned over them anew, and we sent the price of his 1977 Topps rookie card climbing skyward.

And, maybe most of all, we waited (impatiently) for our first glimpse of Dawson in Cubbies pinstripes on cardboard.

While we knew Topps Traded and Fleer Update would come through for us in time for Christmas, Donruss delivered an early bonus with their Opening Day set.

As the name implies, the issue featured every player who appeared in the Opening Day starting lineup for each team in 1987. The card design was nearly identical to the base Donruss set, but with new images and maroon borders instead of black.


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And it was those new images that proved a boon to collectors, and especially those of us on the hunt for Andre the Cub. Because, there on card #70, was The Hawk, standing in the sunny Wrigley batter’s box ready to crush a baseball.

It’s a beautiful card that brings back sweet memories of a wild season that would never have been possible without Dawson’s willingness to sign on the dotted line — even when everything above it was blank.

(Check out our other player card posts here.)

1978 Topps #72 Andre Dawson Excellent-Mint! #001

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2022 Archives Base #75 Andre Dawson - Montréal Expos

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