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Patience pays off again for Hall of Famer Dawson

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Patience paid off once again for Andre Dawson, who was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in his ninth try and will be enshrined in Cooperstown in July.

The brilliant all-round outfielder was accustomed to winning the waiting game -- he once waited a year for his proper pay day after maneuvering a change of address in the middle of his 21-year major league career.

After donning his Hall of Fame jersey at a news conference Thursday, Dawson recalled how he signed a fill-in-the-blank contract in 1987 in order to swap his Expos uniform for the Chicago Cubs colors after 10 seasons in Montreal.

Dawson was determined to leave Montreal because of the rock-hard artificial turf at Olympic Stadium for a team that played on grass to ease the pounding on his damaged knees.

However, he hit free agency at an inopportune time, when major league owners conspired to put a lid on bidding wars for available players. He found no decent offers from other clubs.

Dawson and his agent showed up at the Chicago Cubs' spring training camp and presented general manager Dallas Green with a signed contract that left the salary blank.

"They got a pretty good deal," Dawson said with a chuckle.

BEFUDDLED GREEN

"It was during the collusion era and free agents were going to be forced to sign with their original ball clubs.

"Dallas Green really didn't know what to make of the blank contract. He looked at it and said, 'What is this?' I said, 'Well it's a contract that we want you to fill in, put in what you think I'm worth. I want to become a Chicago Cub."

Dawson, who had played the previous season at a salary of $1.2 million, said he believed he would only last a few more seasons if he had to continue on Montreal's artificial field.

"We'll leave it on the table for 24 hours," he told Green.

"I got a call from him the following afternoon and he said, 'We've evaluated the contract and the best offer we can make is

$500,000'.

"I said, 'Fine. When can I report?'"

"It got quiet for about 10 seconds. I said, 'Hello?' I thought I had lost the call. He said, 'I'm here, can I call you back in about an hour?'

"He called me back and said welcome aboard."

Dawson's one-year deal included incentives if he made the All-Star team, started in the All-Star Game and won the National League MVP. He made a clean sweep of those, hitting 49 homers and driving in 137 runs.

He got back on an appropriate salary track the next year and signed an extension with the Cubs, who paid him more than $3 million by the end of the deal.

Dawson earned a further dividend.

After the owners were found guilty of violating the collective bargaining agreement through collusion over a three-year period, they were forced to pay $280 million to the players' union, which compensated affected players.

"I was one of the big guys," Dawson said Thursday when asked about his share. "It was in the $2 million range."

(Editing by Julian Linden)

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