Maybe the most admirable thing about Andre Dawson

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Andre Dawson Cubs.jpgLike I said yesterday, Andre Dawson is not necessarily my definition of a Hall of Famer on a statistical basis, but I’m fine with his induction because he was, by all accounts, a great guy, he did a lot of unmeasurable stuff that made baseball come alive in Montreal, if only for a while, and he was a really, really enjoyable player to watch.  Hall of Famer? Eh, maybe not. But I’m happy he’s going in there if that makes any sense.

But on a personal level, one the things I find most admirable about Dawson — and Jack Morris and Tim Raines, by the way — is that the way they carried themselves after they got royally screwed by the owners’ illegal conduct during the collusion scandals of the 1980s.  Each of them hit free agency and found every door closed. They knew what was going on at the time. Hell, everyone did. Maybe there was no other option than to suck it up, play ball and let the union handle the legalities of it all, but people crack as the result of that kind of garbage all the time, and even if it’s not the stuff that makes a Hall of Fame case, they deserve some sort of kudos for that.

Murray Chass — writing in the same article I linked earlier this morning, tells us just how determined The Hawk was to put that crap behind him and play ball:

When he was a free agent after the 1986 season,
Dawson got caught up in collusion, the clubs’ conspiracy aimed at
keeping free agents at home instead of moving for more money.

Dawson, who wanted out of Montreal after 11 years on the Expos
knee-wrecking artificial turf, wasn’t getting any offers when [agent Richard] Moss
decided to make the Cubs’ Dallas Green an offer he couldn’t refuse. He
and Dawson showed up at the Cubs’ spring training site in Arizona and
handed Green a signed contract with the salary line left blank. Green,
they told the Cubs’ president, could write in any salary he chose.

“It wasn’t a monetary issue,” Dawson said. “It was about respect,
about not depriving me of that, about an organization not showing a
sense of loyalty after being there all those years. I was sticking my
neck out.”

Lesser men would have sulked all year when faced with what Dawson and others faced in the mid 80s.  As a result of that blank-check deal, Dawson made an even-then paltry $500K the season he hit 49 homers and won the MVP for the Cubs.  It’s worth remembering.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.