This Day in Baseball History: March 6th, 1987

I had no idea he played for the Marlins. This why we’re here people — education.

On March 6, 1987:

Andre Dawson signs with the Cubs for $500,000.

This is one of the more misunderstood moments in baseball history. Even in 1987, $500,000 wasn’t a lot of money for a star like Dawson. Dawson’s peak seemed to arrive in 1983 when he hit .299/.338/.539 with 32 HR and 113 RBI. Over the next three seasons, he would play in between 130 and 139 games, and he would not put up the same stats he had in 1983. Still, he was still productive and could make an impact for any team. After the 1986 season, Dawson went into the free-agent market.

Dawson had played his first 10 full seasons in Montreal, but his knees could no longer handle the astro-turf in Montreal. He decided to move on. The team he was most interested in was the Cubs. The outfielder and his agent began to campaign for the Cubs to sign him, but the Cubs resisted. Dawson and his agent even showed up to Spring Training, but the Cubs still resisted. In order to turn the tables, Dawson did something remarkable (or at least seemingly remarkable) by giving the GM a blank check and saying he would play for what the Cubs thought was fair. GM Dallas Green wrote in $500,000, and Dawson became a Cub.

The official reason seems innocent. Green insisted that he already had a right fielder in Brian Dayett and that Dawson was no longer able to play center. Therefore, he didn’t need Dawson. Another way of viewing this (and a common misconception) is that Dawson was being generous, understanding his decline in production and trying to re-establish some value. Those reasons are baloney.

The actual reason is a popular word being thrown around recently — collusion. The thing is that it was actually happening (not that it isn’t now, but we don’t really know yet). According to the 1968 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the clubs were not allowed to let other teams know what they were willing to pay players. However, in 1985, the owners did just that. The big question was why a young, productive Kirk Gibson wasn’t signed yet. The MLBPA reacted by filing their first grievance. By late 1986, no decision had been reached and the owners were back at it, suppressing salaries by 15%, and only 4 players switched teams. Dawson giving the blank check was an ingenious move but one he likely didn’t make too willingly. He needed to get out of Montreal, but the owners had agreed not to take anyone else’s players without permission. Dawson was stuck in no man’s land. He offered the blank check to the Cubs, and if the Cubs rejected, it essentially proved collusion. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. The arbiter ruled the owners worked in collusion, and Dawson and the other free-agents were compensated.

Dawson went on to make the Cubs very happy. 1987 was his finest season. He hit .287/.328/.568 with 49 HR and 137 RBI on his way to his only MVP award. He followed that with 5 other productive to highly productive seasons while playing on the natural grass. Dawson was one of the most respected and popular Cubs players. He almost wasn’t, however.

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