The Expos, the Cubs and the cap

Subjectivity and controversy often are teammates in decorating the heroes of sports. Sometimes, controversy goes beyond a ballot box, as it has with Baseball Hall of Famer Andre Dawson.

The best centre fielder the Montreal Expos ever had was deservedly elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010. The top of his bust in Cooperstown’s revered halls is an Expos cap, and news has resurfaced that Dawson wants it changed to a Chicago Cubs cap. It is certain to become increasingly controversial.

First, a little background.

I covered baseball in Montreal for the first six years of Dawson’s career, so I know where he came from, for what that’s worth. He came from Denver, where he hit 28 minor-league home runs for the second straight season. The Expos had drafted him in the 11th round, 250th overall, just behind Danny Garcia and just ahead of Don Hanna, whoever they were.

For his one-month trial in Montreal, Dawson hit .235. No home runs. He was, still, just a prospect. The following season, under new manager Dick Williams, Dawson exploded. He was the middle man of the “best young outfield in baseball” with Ellis Valentine and Warren Cromartie. He hit .282 with 19 home runs and 65 runs batted in. He stole 20 bases. He was the National League Rookie of the Year. He played nine more seasons with the Expos, became a consummate centre fielder, maintained a .280 career batting average and today is the only Expos player to hit 200 home runs and steal 200 bases.

The conversation about the greatest Expos player in history, then and perhaps still now, is a toss-up: Dawson or Gary Carter. While both left for other teams, Dawson’s reason was physical. He always had bad knees and the rock-hard turf at Olympic Stadium told him the only way to extend his career was playing on natural grass. At 32 and a free agent, he signed with the Cubs. He played 10 more years, six of them in Chicago.

In Montreal, Dawson was an All-Star three times, first won the hearts of fans, and led the Expos to the playoffs. Most of his games, home runs, hits, RBIs, Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger awards were with the Expos. In Chicago, he was an All-Star five times, and in his first season was the league’s MVP and home-run champion, with a career-best 49. Wrigley Field extended his illustrious career.

Which cap sits on his Hall of Fame bust should be a no-brainer but, evidently, it’s not. Dawson now says his choice was always the Cubs, and he wants to “right a wrong.” In 2010, a news release quoted him as saying he respected Cooperstown’s choice and that “…knowing that I’m on the Hall of Fame team is what’s most important.”

Why the change? In 2010, Expos had been gone only six years. Now they are destined to be forever forgotten, like the St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators or Seattle Pilots…a Hall of Famer and a trivia answer.

This issue isn’t going away. Free agency puts more players on multiple teams. To remove subjectivity, why not make the cap-you-wear decision hard and fast: the uniform a player wore the most? Period.