Andre Dawson got up at 6 a.m. and went to the gym. Before going back home, he took a detour from his usual routine on the day Hall of Fame voting is announced.
"I went by a cemetery to visit my mom and also my grandmother," he said. "It's the first time I had done that. I just felt a little bit more optimistic about this year, and I just wanted to share a few things at that grave site. It meant a lot to me to get out there."
Dawson's faith was rewarded a few hours later Wednesday, when he was elected to the Hall in his ninth try. He was the only player honored, as Bert Blyleven fell five votes short and Roberto Alomar finished eight shy.
Dawson received 420 of 539 votes in results announced by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, 15 more than the 75 percent necessary to gain election. The eight-time All-Star outfielder was 44 votes short last year.
"If you're a Hall of Famer, eventually you're going to get in no matter how long it takes," Dawson said during a telephone conference call. "As I sit here, the only thing I can think of is that it was well worth the wait."
He credited mom Mattie Brown and grandmother Eunice Taylor for teaching him to work hard with dedication and determination. He cried as he arrived at the cemetery, and thanked his mother for raising eight children without a father in the house. He hoped he made them proud.
"I told her, `I love you. I miss you. I wish you were alive so I could tell you that,"' he remembered saying.
While they never saw him play in person, fearing he'd get hurt, they tracked his career from a distance.
"There were some instances where I may have made myself look like a fool out there on the field with some confrontations with the umpires," Dawson said. "I would get a call immediately. And you know, the question was: `Who do you think you are and what do you think you're doing?' And that, you know, kind of humbled me to a degree."
Dawson hit 438 homers with 1,591 RBIs in a career that spanned from 1976-96. Nicknamed "The Hawk," he was voted NL Rookie of the Year in 1977 with Montreal and NL Most Valuable Player in 1987 with the Chicago Cubs, the first member of a last-place team to earn that prize.
"It gave me new life, playing on a natural surface after playing in Montreal on artificial surface for 10 years," he said.
A victim of owners' conspiracy against free agents after he left the Expos, Dawson signed a blank contract with the Cubs during spring training. Then-general manager Dallas Green filled in the dollar amount of $500,000, making Dawson the second-lowest paid regular on the team.
Known for his strong arm in right field, he had a .279 career average and 314 steals, playing through 12 knee operations. He's already had two knee replacements and may need another.
He will be inducted July 25 at Cooperstown along with manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey, elected last month by the Veterans Committee. Within 90 minutes of the announcement, Dawson had received 34 voice mails and 62 text messages.
Blyleven, who had 287 wins, 3,701 strikeouts and 60 shutouts, is likely to have a similar experience next year. He had 400 votes (74.2 percent), up from 338 last year, and gets two more tries on the BBWAA ballot. The highest percentage for a player who didn't enter the Hall in a later year was 63.4 by Gil Hodges in 1983, his final time on the ballot.
Next year's vote also will include newcomers Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez, Larry Walker, Jeff Bagwell, John Franco and Kevin Brown.
"Hopefully, this will lead to getting over that hurdle next year," Blyleven told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Alomar received 397 votes (73.7 percent), the most of any first-year candidate not elected. This marked the first time in BBWAA balloting that two players fell fewer than 10 votes short in one year.
"I feel disappointed, but next year hopefully I make it in," Alomar said at his home in New York, where his son cried. "At least I was close."
A 12-time All-Star second baseman, Alomar led Toronto to consecutive World Series titles in 1992-93. He finished with a .300 career batting average, 2,724 hits, 210 homers, 474 steals and 10 Gold Gloves.
Jack Morris, the winningest pitcher of the 1980s but burdened by a 3.90 career ERA, had 282 votes (52.3 percent), up from 237 last year.
Cincinnati shortstop Barry Larkin, like Alomar making his first appearance, was on 278 ballots (51.6 percent), followed by reliever Lee Smith at 255 (47.3 percent) and Edgar Martinez at 195 (36.2 percent). Martinez, on the ballot for the first time, is a test of how voters receive players who were primarily designated hitters.
Mark McGwire received 128 votes (23.7 percent), 10 more than last year and matching the total from his first two times on the ballot. Eighth on the career list with 583 homers, he has been stigmatized since evading questions from Congress in 2005 about steroids use.