The Hawk will be landing in Cooperstown soon and the men who know Andre Dawson best are already celebrating his arrival.
On Wednesday, Dawson earned 77.9 percent of the votes cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America and is now headed for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
"He played the game the right way," said Shawon Dunston, Dawson's former teammate with the Cubs. "He had 11 knee surgeries. ... If we had to be dressed at 10 a.m., he'd be there at 7 and he never complained at all."
Dawson will be inducted on July 25 in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey, who were elected in December by the Veterans Committee. Dawson, who played much of his career on achy knees, made it on his ninth try.
"If you're a Hall of Famer you're eventually going to get in," Dawson said. "It was well worth the wait. I can't really describe the elation when my family and I got the call."
He's not the only one. Dunston said he was so nervous for Dawson that he could not sleep the night before. When it was announced that Dawson was voted in, an overjoyed Dunston hugged and kissed his wife.
"He never talked about money, how much he could have made, should have made," Dunston said. "It's easy to play this game when you're healthy or playing well. It's not so easy when you're not healthy or not playing well. He played hard both ways. Other players looked up to him. That made me feel honored to be his teammate."
It's easy to see why Dunston felt special. On one occasion, Dunston said he remembered seeing Dawson unable to bend his knee and suggested that his mentor take the day off. Dawson responded by reminding him that, "It's not about me. It's about how you play the game."
"Him and Ryne Sandberg -- they didn't speak more than 10 words a day, but they spoke volumes with their actions," Dunston said.
Like Dunston, Angels center fielder Torii Hunter celebrated Dawson's special day. He called Dawson one of his role models.
"When I was a kid growing up in Arkansas, the only baseball I was able to watch was the superstations with the Cubs and Braves," Hunter said. "Andre Dawson was my favorite player. I copied everything he did, from his batting stance to his hair style. I loved everything about that man. I'm so happy he's where he belongs, in the Hall of Fame. He was a great player and a man who always seemed to do the right thing."
Astros manager Brad Mills, who played with Dawson for four years in Montreal, said his former teammate was not only a great player, he has always been a great human being. The manager was happy to see his old friend rewarded for all of his hard work.
"He was so quiet. He wasn't real outspoken," Mills said. "He just played the game real hard on the field. Every at-bat he competed and he could beat you with so many things. He could beat you with the bat, beat you with his glove, beat you with his arm and beat you with his wheels. There was just so many ways a guy like that could beat you. You throw all that in with him being an outstanding guy, it's pretty special."
Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer agreed. He said Dawson reminded him of a bigger version of Roberto Clemente, also a Hall of Famer.
"He could beat you with his speed, he could beat you with his arm and he could beat you with his glove. And he was even more of a home run hitter," Palmer said. "The great thing about Andre is he's just been very patient. It's almost like, 'Hey, when I get in, then it's time and I'll go work on my induction speech.' I think he's really handled it pretty much the way he played his career, which was with an abundance of class. He was just a terrific all-around player, and probably a very underrated player."
One of Dunston's favorite stories about his old friend involves a game the Cubs were winning by several runs. Dawson dove for a pop fly in the outfield and Dunston asked him why.
"I go, 'Andre, what are you doing?' He said, 'What do you mean, what am I doing?," Dunston recalled. " 'That's how I play no matter what the score is. I only come out when the manager takes me out.' [Dawson] never wanted to come out of the game. That's why he's a Hall of Famer."