As thousands gather in Cooperstown this weekend to celebrate the induction of longtime Montreal Expo Andre Dawson into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I thought I would reflect on The Hawk’s minor league stops in Canada.
Dawson’s storied big league career has been well-documented. In the pre-steroid era, the five-tool outfielder belted 438 homers, knocked in 1,591 runs, stole 314 bases, accumulated 2,774 hits and batted .279 in 21 big league seasons. He also won eight Gold Gloves and was named the 1987 National League MVP. For 11 seasons (from 1976 to 1986), he starred in Montreal and continues to rank at or near the top of most of the team’s all-time offensive categories.
Dawson was originally selected by the Expos in the 11th round of the 1975 amateur draft. After receiving his paltry $2,000 signing bonus, Dawson reported to the team’s Rookie Ball club in Lethbridge, Alberta in 1975. On his way up the Expos chain, Dawson would play in Double-A with Quebec City the next year.
I thought I would share some of Dawson’s reflections on playing in these Canadian cities from his 1994 biography “Hawk.”
Proving himself to be a bona fide prospect, Dawson would hit .330 and belt 13 homers and seven triples in 72 games with Lethbridge.
“Lethbridge is a friendly little town nestled away in the majestic Rocky Mountains. Three things stand out in my mind about this town,” wrote Dawson. “First, I recall the constant odor given off by a nearby slaughterhouse. I had been around paper mills and pulp factories, and they had given off an awful smell. But that slaughterhouse went far beyond awful. It was disgusting.
The second thing about playing in Lethbridge were the long, long bus rides we had to take to play in other cities. The Pioneer League could easily be renamed the Long, Slow Bus Ride League, and I don’t think anyone would have complained. Our nearest opponent in Montana was nine hours away (and Idaho was even further), and the windy mountainous roads we had to take were hazardous and slow.”
His muscular roommate, Andy Dyes, a onetime can’t miss outfield prospect, was the third thing Dawson recalled about Lethbridge.
“He was considered a better prospect than I was and was on the fast track to the major leagues,” wrote Dawson of Dyes. “Unfortunately, some personal problems intervened, and he had to drop out of the game.”
Despite cold temperatures, The Hawk continued his hot hitting in Quebec City, where he hit .357 and slugged eight homers in 40 games in 1976.
“Quebec City was the coldest place I had ever been in my life. That was the toughest part of playing there. I never seemed to be able to get the chill out of my bones. It even snowed once while we were playing there in May – only the second time in my life I had seen snow,” wrote Dawson.