Cubs History: Andre Dawson and the year of the blank contract

Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images)
Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images) /

Andre Dawson spent six seasons with the Chicago Cubs. The Hall of Fame outfielder carried a career .285/.327/.507 line in his time on the North Side. He earned All-Star nods in five seasons. In 1987, he offered the Cubs a blank contract leading to one of the strangest transactions in Major League Baseball history.

Dawson was fresh off a year in which he slashed .284/.338/.478, posting a 123 OPS+ in the process. From 1977-86 as a member of the Montreal Expos, Dawson had not only won the NL Rookie of the Year, but had three top-ten MVP finishes. Included in his accolades: six Gold Gloves, three All-Star trips and a trio of Silver Sluggers.

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Unable to get a contract in the offseason before the 1987 season, a lot of the structure within Major League Baseball wholly unraveled. Labor disputes between owners and players led to a stark reality on the free-agent market. Collusion amongst the owners created a barrier for players to get paid.

Montreal had made an offer to Dawson – a two-year, $2 million deal – which Dawson refused in place of taking his chances on the market expecting teams to jump at his services. At the first sign, it was not going to happen, Dawson chose a different tactic; a tactic that would shape the course of his career and that of baseball on the North Side forever.

Cubs: Andre Dawson takes things into his own hands

To say the idea devised by Dawson and his player agent Dick Moss was crazy would understate the actuality of what transpired. At the time, Dallas Green, the Cubs’ General Manager, called the ploy a “dog and pony show.”

In what sensible world does a player, especially Dawson’s caliber, offer a blank check to a team to give up complete control? In this case, it would work wonders. The Cubs signed Dawson to an incentive-laced $500,000 contract. The total would go to $650,000 if he avoided injury before the All-Star Break.

Dawson did not miss a single game in the first half of the season. He slashed .299/.337/.568 with a .905 OPS, 24 home runs and 74 RBI, good enough for a 137 OPS+. In the second half, Dawson hit .272, knocked 25 home runs, drove in 63 runs and finished with a 134 OPS+.

August was a massive month and one of the best single months in baseball history. Dawson slashed .309/.361/.736, 15 home runs, 28 RBI and posted a 183 OPS+. In clutch situations in which he came to bat with runners in scoring position and two out, Dawson hit .356 and held a 1.088 OPS.

By season’s end, Dawson had swatted 49 home runs, driven in 137 runs and finished with a 130 OPS+, earning him the NL MVP. In place of everything that had happened, Dawson expressed gratitude following that day signing his contract.

"“I can’t describe for you the feeling of elation I experienced as we walked out of Green’s office that afternoon,” Dawson wrote in his autobiography. “I had taken back control of my own life.”"

After the experiment, Dawson signed a new deal with Chicago, much more lucrative, paying the veteran outfielder $6 million over three years. The Players Association filed grievances against the league for their part in free agent negotiations leading to a $280 million settlement in 1990.

Apparently, the Cubs are ready to spend now. dark. Next

Desperate times called for desperate measures. Dawson had set the tone for years to come and became a legend in Wrigleyville by taking a chance on himself and the Cubs.