Three decades after MVP season, Andre Dawson is stronger than ever

Thirty years removed from his 1987 MVP season with the Cubs, the great Andre Dawson was on the Wrigley Field mound Monday to throw a ceremonial first pitch. In town with the Marlins, for whom he works as a special assistant, the Hall of Famer reared back and …

You don’t really want to know. But, strictly for the record, the ball was about 10 feet short and not the least bit straight. It’s never easy to witness the fall of a legend.

“But it was cold and windy,” he claimed a day later, “and they gave me a new ball — it was so slick.”

Excuses — sad.

Andre Dawson follows through on his swing during a game with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1987 at Wrigley Field. | Getty Images

But I should confess now that I’ve merely been setting you up for a story about an old guy who’s bigger, stronger and more impressive to look at than Andre Dawson the player ever was. It’s Dawson the 62-year-old.

He couldn’t throw that pitch because he hadn’t attempted to throw a ball even once since tearing his right rotator cuff and labrum about a year ago. Instead of surgery, Dawson opted for “rehab” — or his own version of it, anyway.

Dawson, who played his entire career at under 200 pounds, started lifting weights in ’87 upon joining the Cubs. Never did he get close to heaving the sort of weight around that he deals with now. Currently 230 pounds and more muscle-bound in his upper body than ever, he lifts five times a week. And here’s what he did — on the bench press alone — in the bowels of Wrigley before Tuesday’s game:

Three sets of 10 reps with 225 pounds. Then sets of eight, six and four reps with 245 pounds. And finally, four reps with 295 pounds.

Are you feeling faint yet?

“I don’t really consider myself strong,” he said in that humble, dignified manner he was famous for as a player. “It’s just what I’ve become now.”

Sometimes Dawson’s shoulder screams back at him when he lifts, so he finds a different arm angle and keeps going. It’s the same way he dealt with the severe knee pain that followed him from Montreal to Chicago and stayed with him for the rest of his career.

Dawson was a 32-year-old free agent when he arrived at Cubs spring training in ’87 with a signed, blank contract and told general manager Dallas Green he wanted to roam the soft outfield grass at Wrigley, which would be far kinder to his knees than the AstroTurf in Montreal had been.

The Expos had offered him $1 million for one year. The stingy Cubs gave him half that — and were rewarded with a league-leading 49 home runs and 137 RBI. The Cubs finished in last place that year, but Dawson gave fans a season-long show they’ll never forget.

He still remembers the adoring bows from the right-field bleachers like it was yesterday.

“It doesn’t seem like 30 years. My God,” he said. “But those fans welcomed me from day one, and they fueled me that year. Going out and seeing them salaaming, seeing them wearing T-shirts that said ‘Andre’s Army’ — I just looked forward to it every day.”

We talked about his three-homer game at Wrigley that August. We talked about 1989, when Dawson hobbled through a terrible NLCS against the Giants.

And about how fun it would’ve been for the Dawson of 1987 to play with the Cubs of 2017.

“I would honestly just try to play wherever I was needed,” he said, “and wherever I wouldn’t have the most wear and tear on my knees.”

When the Cubs won the World Series last November, Dawson, watching at home in Miami, literally jumped out of his chair. He felt no pain. He stayed up until 2 a.m. to watch the postgame celebration, even though he had a 6 a.m. flight to catch to do an ESPN piece in Chicago.

From O’Hare, an old slugger built from the waist up like an NFL defensive end got into an Uber and went directly to Wrigley Field. Just like this week, Andre the giant was home again.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

RELATED STORIES

Jake Arrieta sighting: Cub righty returns to form in rout of Marlins

Hard knocks: Albert Almora Jr. bruised in BP altercation with wall