COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - While delicately avoiding any mention of the words "steroids'' and ''performance-enhancing drugs,'' Andre Dawson used the platform of his Hall of Fame induction speech Sunday to deliver a strong and stern message about the state of the game.
"Individuals have chosen the wrong road and they have chosen that as their legacy," Dawson said. "Others still have a chance to choose theirs. Do not be lured to the dark side. It's a stain on the game, a stain that's gradually being removed."
Speaking before a crowd of about 10,000 sprawled out on the lawn at Clark Sports Center, Dawson spent only about two minutes of his speech discussing the subject, but it was effective. He said afterward that he "wanted to address the state of the game without going into too many particulars."
"I think I made my point," he said. "You don't need to read through the lines."
Noting his love of baseball, Dawson told the crowd: "It bothers me when I hear people knock the game. There's nothing wrong with the game of baseball. Baseball will from time to time, like anything else in life, fall victim to the mistakes people make. It's not pleasant and it's not right. Those mistakes have hurt the game and taken a toll on all of us."
It was a serious moment in an otherwise lighthearted speech.
With a spirited group of Montreal Expos fans chanting "Let's go, Expos", Dawson stumped for former teammates Tim Raines and Lee Smith to one day join him in the Hall, just as Ryne Sandberg did for Dawson during his own induction speech five years ago.
Dawson also shared offbeat stories about former teammates that drew laughter from the crowd. Goose Gossage, Dawson's teammate in 1988 with the Cubs, "was the only player I know who could drink a case of beer on a flight from Chicago to St. Louis and still be lights out the next day."
Gary Carter's nickname in the Expos' clubhouse was "Teeths," Dawson said, spelling the word to the crowd for emphasis. "Because," he said, "when the cameras came on, that's all you saw from him."
And regarding Pete Rose, his teammate for 95 games with the Expos in 1984, Dawson, whose nickname was "The Hawk," said: "If I was the first person at the park, Pete was second. Only problem then was that you had to listen to him talk for three hours before anyone else showed up."
Elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America in his ninth year on the ballot, Dawson said he had been nervous about breaking down while giving his speech, especially during the heartfelt thanks he delivered to his mother and grandmother at the end. But once he reached the podium, the fear was gone.
"For some reason, I didn't feel any pressure," he said. "I felt numb on the stage."
Plagued by knee injuries that resulted in 12 surgeries, Dawson amassed 438 home runs during his 24-year career, a total that carried far more weight when he retired in 1996 than it does today. He also stole 314 bases and had one of the strongest outfield throwing arms of his era.
Generally known as polite but reserved in his public comments during his playing days, Dawson preferred to let his performance speak for itself. That made his affable on-stage performance Sunday - combined with his stern comments regarding PEDs - all the more surprising.
"If you saw him from a distance, you ran because you would think he's the meanest person in the world," said Raines, who was in the crowd for the ceremony. "But to talk to him, he's like a kitten."