A few weeks ago, after Willie Mays called him "the most complete player in the game today," Andre Dawson responded with a 14-for-31 hitting streak and raised his National League-leading average to .347.
That seven-day spree included a five-for-five game, three home runs, eight RBI and 12 runs scored. Maybe Mays should have called Dawson the most dominant player in the game as well.
"Willie Mays was a great player," Dawson said a few days ago. "But that statement was no particular challenge to myself to continue playing the way I have. I think I'm very demanding of myself. Whatever I do, I'm not satisfied with it. That's the approach I try to take in order to keep that mental edge. I'll do whatever it takes to play and win the way I know I can."
Dawson, one of four Montreal Expos starting for the National League in the All-Star Game Wednesday in Chicago, was seventh in the computer card balloting with 1,354,870 votes, second in the outfield vote to Atlanta's Dale Murphy, who had 1,452,341. Obviously, playing an American game in a Canadian city has not obscured the 28-year-old center fielder's prodigious talents from the American baseball public.
"Playing in Canada didn't hurt me at all as far as being received in America goes," said Dawson, 6 feet 3 and 190 pounds, who makes his home in Miami. "I've been well received wherever we go. People take note of you when you're picked to win as a ball club. First, they recognize the ball club, then the individual players stand out."
It would indeed be absurd for anyone of Dawson's position and talent to suffer an identity crisis. Montreal leads the National League East Division, and Dawson ranks in the top five in nearly every hitting category. Dawson's .321 average is third in the league. He leads in runs batted in with 65 and is tied for third in home runs, 17.
According to a recent New York Times poll of the players on all 26 American and National League teams, Dawson is "the best all-around performer in baseball today." He received more votes than last year's most valuable players: Robin Yount of the Milwaukee Brewers and Dale Murphy of the Atlanta Braves.
The Expos picked Dawson in the 11th round of the 1975 draft, the 251st player selected after standout seasons at Southwest Miami High School and Florida A&M. Two years later, he was playing in the major leagues.
His peers now consider him the quintessential player with an arsenal of intangible qualities that only add to his esteem. He's got heart and guts, plays an acrobatic defensive game, can hit the long ball and steal bases.
With all that firepower, consider Mays' assessment understated. A seven-year veteran who was rookie of the year in 1977 and a Gold Glove recipient the last three years, Dawson may well be on his way to Cooperstown.
"I try not to concern myself with what may happen way down the road," said Dawson, who was never voted the league's most valuable player. "I've had some pretty decent years in the past and was just not picked because better players were. But then again, if ever I am chosen, I like to think that it's because I'm deserving of it."
This will be Dawson's third start in the All-Star Game, celebrating its golden anniversary at Comiskey Park in Chicago. Dawson, catcher Gary Carter, outfielder Tim Raines and first baseman Al Oliver, all of Montreal, occupy four of the nine starting positions for the National League.
"The situation was pretty much the same last year, with the exception of Al Oliver," Dawson said. "Montreal was well represented. I guess, though, that it was a little more enjoyable last year because of the fact that we played the game in Montreal. I'm just glad for the other guys and the organization and the whole country of Canada."
The National League holds a 34-18-1 lead in the series, winning the last 11 in a row and 19 of 20. Dawson said, "I'd like to think we're so dominant because we're very serious about the game and go out there thinking in terms of winning. For example, last year when Davey Concepcion hit that home run, I really couldn't believe the excitement and jubilation on the National League bench. I think, perhaps, we may take this game a little more seriously than they do. I know it's a time when you're supposed to go out there and enjoy yourself and have fun, but we do think in terms of winning."
A reticent, private man, Dawson missed 15 starts last year because of injuries to his right wrist, left wrist and left knee but still led the National League in putouts (419) and total chances (435).
Last winter, he underwent corrective surgery on his right knee for the removal of an osteochondroma that had been causing fluid buildup in the joint. Now he says he probably will have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee at season's end.
Even with bad wrists and knees, he was one of only five 20-20 players in the majors last season, hitting 22 home runs and stealing 39 bases. "I don't have any pain (in the left knee)," he said. "I have some stiffness from time to time. I'm okay once I get it good and loose.
"I just try to take it all in stride," Dawson said, "and continue to work hard and play with all that's in me."
Dawson said Comiskey Park, known as a pitcher's park because of its dimensions, should pose no problems to his or any of the other big bats Wednesday night.
"Cleveland was supposed to be a pitcher's park, too," Dawson said. "But two years ago Gary Carter hit two home runs and (Mike) Schmidt hit a home run. Anything can happen."