The best part of Andre Dawson's game came not as he swung or after he had made contact, not when he stole a base or made running catch in the outfield. The best part of his game came after the catch, but only on those rare occasions when a baserunner foolishly tried to take another base. Dawson often made the that base unavailable.
He had that look, almost a glare, that said "Advance at your own risk." But, more than that, he had that arm, that remarkable hose, that said "Go 'head, fool. Try it."
They call him the Hawk; have since he was 9 years old, when his uncle found uncommon intensity in his nephew's normal expression. The uncle thought it was a scowl. His nephew looked like a hawk. And now, they can call Dawson "Hall of Famer." But if he had made it into the big leagues without a nickname, "The Hose" might have been the one that stuck.
They used to say of Dick Allen, Frank Howard and a few others "When he hits one, it stays hit." The verb changed with Dawson. "When he throws one, it stays thrown." The scouts call it carry. The guy thrown out at third calls it something less endearing.
You noticed Dawson's arm the way you noticed Will Clark's swing, Ozzie Smith's back hand and the movement on Mariano Rivera's cutter. It wasn't what his throws achieved so much as it was how they moved. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Dawson threw straight lines. "Some guys hit seeds," Lenny Dykstra said in the 80s, using he popular parlance of the day. "Hawk throws seeds -- sfffffffft."
Dawson became a Hall of Fame-designate Wednesday not merely because he could throw, of course. Had that been the case, his one-time Expos teammate Ellis Valentine probably would have preceded him in the Hall. But the Hawk's throwing made a difference. It was the part of his game that distinguished him most, the part that so few others could even come close to matching. Dave Winfield, Dave Parker, Dwight Evans, Valentine and a few others.
No component of the game has diminished more in the last 40 years than outfield throwing. And that is troubling. Every team was armed with a right fielder in the 50s and 60s -- Roberto Clemente, Roger Maris, Carl Furillo and Rocky Colavito. Lots of sffffffffts. Lots of straight lines.
But Dawson, the man with carry on his throws, carried on. "He hosed them down," was how Bob Watson once described it.
Dawson won enough Gold Glove awards to outfit every defender on the field other than the catcher. That says something. What he said Thursday when he made his first public appearance as a Hall of Fame-designate was "I won eight Gold Gloves and only four Silver Sluggers awards." It was his way of acknowledging that his defense -- more than his offense -- had put him at the head of a class of one.
"I could hit a home run," he said. "I could steal a base. But there's something about making a throw to the plate to save your team a run. I liked doing that."
His arm was a wonder, and Dawson believes he still could throw out a runner at third base from the right-field wall at Wrigley Field -- if his ravaged, repaired and replaced knees would allow him to reach the vine in time. His memory isn't quite what his throwing was, though. He proudly told of a play he made at Wrigley when he threw out Vince Coleman, of all people, at the plate for the final out of a game. A walk-off throw. He did throw out Vincent Van Go for the final out ... of the seventh inning, Aug. 9, 1992.
But no one is holding that factual faux pas against him. Perhaps that throw in the seventh and the assist he had one year earlier to the day at Wrigley against the Mets -- Dawson doubled Coleman off first base for the first two outs of the game -- prompted Coleman and others not to test "The Hose" again. Reputations carry too.
His glove and his hose, his speed and his bat made Dawson a complete player, a rarity then and now. He was a National League player if there ever was one. When he played with the Red Sox in 1993 and 1994, he served as a designated hitter and felt like an incomplete player, a Hawk out of water. He wanted to throw from Mr. Pesky's pole or deny a fly ball access to the bullpen beyond right.
Dawson appeared as a designated hitter in 171 games in his two seasons in the other league. The Hall wouldn't be preparing a plaque for him if he had spent his entire career in that role, even if it would have spared his knees. His place in the game is branded in leather more than it is burned into white ash.
And on the same day he won election to the Hall, another player who was more white ash than leather, Edgar Martinez, fell well short of election. As managers often say, "You still have to catch it." The game would be better if you still had to throw it, too.