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Expos fans come out to support Dawson

Expos fans come out to support Dawson

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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- When Andre Dawson moved to the podium on Sunday on the canopy-covered stage behind the Clark Sports Center, a group of rabid fans who had made their way from Montreal for the 68th Hall of Fame induction ceremony started chanting, "Let's Go Expos."

And that chant continued on and off during the Hawks' 23-minute acceptance speech. The Expos have been gone from Quebec since the end of the 2004 season, but evidently they are not forgotten. Dawson played the first 11 years of his 21-year career in Montreal, and went into the Hall wearing an Expos cap on his plaque

"I was proud, very proud that they came down to support me," Dawson said afterward. "Expos fans were great over the years. They always treated me with the utmost respect."

The fans made the six-hour trek in two busloads, accompanied by Warren Cromartie, who played in the same outfield at Olympic Stadium with Dawson, and Tim Raines. Dawson fully endorsed Raines in his speech as a future Hall of Famer. Cromartie was seated in the front row on Sunday next to Raines, wearing the old multi-colored Expos cap.

Dawson wanted to have the Cubs insignia engraved on his Hall of Fame plaque, but was overruled by the officials from the Hall, who made him the second player behind catcher Gary Carter to go in as an Expo after he was elected by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America in 2003.

"It's understandable in a lot of ways that he went in as an Expo, because Andre did accumulate a lot of his statistics in Montreal," Carter said this weekend. "The Nationals are going to be giving a day for him on Aug. 10. I've been invited to do that, and I think it's great that they're bringing some of the history back from the days the organization spent in Montreal. Hopefully there will be a lot of Expos fans that will come to Washington to cheer him, but at least he's going to have a day."

When Carter was inducted, the Expos were still in Montreal, although in the dying days of the franchise's 36-year existence there. Upon Dawson's induction, they have been in Washington as the Nationals for almost six seasons, which makes the outpouring of affection even that much more phenomenal.

Dawson said he wasn't surprised.

"There was only one incident," Dawson said. "I went to Chicago [in 1987], was having the best year of my career, went back to Montreal and was booed. But that was out of frustration. I think they were misinformed about why I left, about my contract negotiations. But deep down inside, I knew they would come around, that they were just overreacting. That wasn't their true emotions, because later it was applause.

"To see them out there today was great. I didn't play the game to be a crowd-pleaser. When I went out there I didn't want to disrespect the uniform or disrespect the fans. Whatever fans show up, I'm most appreciative of that."

As far as Raines is concerned, Dawson used his Hall of Fame pulpit to endorse the former basestealer, and also endorsed his Cubs teammate, closer Lee Smith, for election to the Hall.

It was the same approach another former Cubs teammate, Ryne Sandberg, took when he endorsed Dawson for the Hall during his 2005 induction speech. The Hawk finally made it this year on his ninth try.

"It's very gratifying to see the Hawk go in," Sandberg said this weekend. "I was the same type of player, and I wanted to put in a good word for him because his numbers were being overshadowed by what was going on in baseball at that time, and that was the steroid era. Now that baseball has all that in the past, it's great to see the Hawk's numbers stand out. That's all I was talking about."

Dawson said a week before the ceremony that he didn't think he'd be the last player inducted into the Hall wearing the Expos logo, citing Raines as his prime candidate.

Like Dawson, Raines played the first 10-plus seasons of his 23-year career for the Expos, and he went on to compile a .294 lifetime batting average, 2,605 hits and 808 stolen bases. Smith is third all-time with 478 saves behind Trevor Hoffman (596) and Mariano Rivera (546).

Thus far, writers have shown little inclination to elect either Smith or Raines, who was touched by baseball's drug scandals of the 1980s. On this year's ballot, when Dawson was elected with 77.9 percent of the vote, Raines earned 30.4 percent, and Smith 47.3 percent.

"Obviously, you can't say what's going to happen in the future, but I played with both of them, and I saw what they brought to the game, day in and day out," Dawson said.

"Tim is a personal friend. I played with Sandberg and appreciated some of the comments he made about me. I was most appreciative, but I think perhaps he saw a player that was Hall worthy. Tim Raines' numbers will probably get mixed up with the players of this era, but there's no doubt in my mind that he's a Hall of Famer."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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