Negro Leagues Baseball Museum honors Hall of Game inductees
Dawson, Cepeda, Oliva and Raines inducted in third class
By Robert Falkoff
Special to MLB.com |
KANSAS CITY -- One way or the other, Andre Dawson seemed destined to leave his baseball mark in Kansas City.
As a senior in high school, Dawson attended a tryout camp in Florida for the Royals' Baseball Academy, a cutting-edge player development concept conceived by original owner Ewing Kauffman in the early 1970s. The Royals were looking for great athletes they could mold as baseball players in the Academy. From an original list of 60, Dawson was one of three players invited back for the third and final day of the tryout. But he had suffered a severe knee injury playing football and was ultimately told that his 60-yard-dash time wasn't good enough for an invitation.
"Unfortunately, it didn't happen," Dawson said. "I was told by one of the instructors to continue to follow my dream."
Dawson took those words to heart. He went on to Florida A&M and then enjoyed an illustrious 21-year Major League career. Kansas City, the home of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, was again in his thoughts Saturday when Dawson joined Orlando Cepeda, Tony Oliva and Tim Raines as inductees in the NLBM's "Hall of Game."
Established by the NLBM in 2014, the Hall of Game honors former MLB standouts who exhibited the same type of passion, determination, skill and flair that characterized the Negro Leagues.
"I think about the significant role that the Negro Leagues played in building a bridge for me to cross," said Dawson, a Hall of Famer and eight-time All-Star. "I think about what they did to put me where I am today and I'm deeply honored."
The third class of Hall of Game inductees will be permanently recognized by the NLBM and the future Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center, which is being developed by the Museum.
With Father's Day just one week away, both Cepeda and Raines reflected on the influence of their fathers as they tried to put Saturday's honor in perspective.
Cepeda's father once competed with and against Negro Leaguers in Puerto Rico.
"I remember it as a kid," said Cepeda, a Hall of Famer and seven-time All-Star. "Being here today, it's not only for me but for my father. I was born with a skill to play this game, but you never know how far you can go."
Raines' father played baseball but never got a chance to have a pro career.
"When I got that chance, I told my Dad, 'This is going to be for you'," said Raines, a seven-time All-Star and four-time stolen-base leader in the National League. "The first day I made it to the Major Leagues, my father drove up to Montreal."
All of Saturday's inductees cited an aspect of their game they look back on with a particular source of pride. For Oliva, a three-time American League batting champion for the Minnesota Twins, the ability to improve defensively in the outfield was noteworthy. He treasures his 1966 Gold Glove because it symbolizes the hard work he put in to get better defensively.
"I went from the worst [defensive outfielder] to the best," Oliva said.
Dawson, who injured his right arm while trying to make an ill-fated move from the outfield to shortstop in high school, eventually became one of the best throwing outfielders in the Majors.
"It took about three years before I was really able to regain the strength in my throwing arm," Dawson said.
Raines got a kick out of stealing a base when everybody in the ballpark knew he was going.
"That made me happy and it made the fans happy," Raines said.
For Cepeda, hitting was the big thing. Particularly when the pitcher was in trouble and had to challenge him.
"Helping my team with RBIs was what I looked forward to," Cepeda said. "I loved hitting with men on base."
The four inductees took a tour of the Museum Saturday morning with NLBM President Bob Kendrick leading the way.
"Tim Raines was talking to Cool Papa Bell's statue and said, 'I can outrun you," Dawson noted.
That drew a round of laughs on a fun-filled day that the 2016 Hall of Game inductees can savor forever.
Robert Falkoff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.