An 8-time National League (NL) All-Star, he was named the league's Rookie of the Year in 1977 after batting .282 with 19 home runs and 65 runs batted in (RBI), and won the Most Valuable Player Award in 1987 after leading the league with 49 homers and 137 RBI; he had been runner-up for the award in both 1981 and 1983. He batted .300 five times, drove in 100 runs four times and had 13 seasons of 20 home runs. A strong baserunner early in his career, he also stole 30 bases three times. He is one of eight MLB players with at least 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases during his career.
Dawson was a center fielder until knee problems – worsened by the artificial surface at Olympic Stadium – forced his shift to right field, followed by his move to a team which played on grass. He led the NL in outfield putouts three consecutive years (1981–1983), and won eight Gold Glove Awards for fielding excellence. Upon his retirement, his NL totals of 409 home runs and 962 extra base hits both ranked tenth in league history; he also ranked seventh in NL history in games as an outfielder (2,303), and sixth in both outfield putouts (5,116) and total chances (5,366). He set Expos franchise records for career games, at bats, runs scored, hits, doubles, triples, home runs, runs batted in, extra base hits, total bases and steals, all of which have since been broken variously by Tim Raines, Tim Wallach and Vladimir Guerrero. Dawson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 25, 2010.
Dawson was selected by the Expos in the 11th round (pick #250) of the 1975 Major League Baseball draft. He played in 24 major league games in 1976 after making his debut on September 11. His stardom rose in 1977 when he became an everyday outfielder for the Expos, and batted .282 with 19 home runs and 21 stolen bases. He was awarded the 1977 Rookie of the Year in the National League, narrowly beating out Steve Henderson of the New York Mets. Dawson had a blend of power and speed, hitting at least 20 home runs in his seven seasons with the Expos, and stealing at least 20 bases in seven seasons. Dawson, playing primarily center field for the Expos, also became an excellent defensive player, gaining his first of eight Gold Glove Awards in 1980. Based on his all-around excellence, Dawson was second in the National League MVP voting in 1981 (won by Mike Schmidt) and second again in 1983 (won by Dale Murphy). He was voted the Montreal Expos Player of the Year in 1981 and 1983.
Dawson played 1,443 games with the Expos, fourth highest in franchise history. As an Expo, Dawson set single-season club records for home runs (32, now seventh), RBI (113, now fourth), extra base hits (78, now seventh), and sacrifice flies (18, still first). He still holds the Expos career record for sacrifice flies (71), and is the only player to hit 200 home runs and steal 200 bases with Montreal. During his Expo days, Dawson hit two home runs in the same inning twice: at Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium against the Atlanta Braves on July 30, 1978 and at Wrigley Field against his future team, the Chicago Cubs, on September 24, 1985. As of 2014, Dawson, Willie McCovey and Jeff King are the only three players who had hit two home runs in one inning twice.
In 1984 Dawson appeared in The Cap, a short film about a young boy living in Montreal that was given a baseball cap by Dawson.
Dawson played for the Expos until after the 1986 season when he became a free agent and sought a team whose home field had natural grass, as his knee injuries were aggravated by Olympic Stadium's artificial turf. However, due to collusion on the part of the Major League Baseball owners, he was unable to attract offers. Dawson campaigned for the Cubs to sign him during the offseason, but general manager Dallas Green resisted, insisting that the Cubs would start Brian Dayett in right field (Dawson had moved from center field to right field in his final two seasons as an Expo, due to the condition of his knees), and that one player could not make a 71-91 team a 91-71 team. When the Cubs opened camp in Mesa, Arizona that spring, Dawson and his agent Dick Moss arrived with a signed blank contract in an attempt to secure a contract with the Cubs. Dawson and Moss' stunt was derided as a "dog and pony show" by Green. After reviewing the contract, Green reached an agreement with Moss on a salary of $500,000 ($1,054,042 in today's dollars), second-lowest on the team among regulars, and added bonuses of $150,000 if he did not go on the disabled list by the All-Star Game break and $50,000 if he made the All-Star team. He earned both. Interestingly, the team also wrote in $100,000 bonuses if Dawson was MVP of either the league championship series or the World Series, but did not add a clause for National League MVP. While he won the NL MVP, the Cubs did not make the playoffs, so he had no chance to earn the NLCS or World Series MVP.
He became the Cubs' starting right fielder, and hit a major league leading 49 home runs (equal with Oakland Athletics rookie Mark McGwire) and was named the league's MVP, finally winning after the two years as runner-up in Montreal. Nonetheless, Dawson wasn't able to turn around the Cubs' fortunes: although the team held first place for nearly half of May and remained in contention through July, the Cubs finished the 1987 season at 76-85, last in the National League East.
Dawson was the first player to ever win a league MVP trophy from a last place team. Dawson played five more seasons with the Cubs, and was one of the franchise's most popular players during that time. His worst individual season came in 1989, when the Cubs won the National League East title. Then, during the NL Championship Series, Dawson slumped terribly, hitting .105 as the San Francisco Giants beat the Cubs 4 games to 1. Dawson's .507 career slugging percentage with the Cubs is fourth highest in team history.
In October 1992 the Red Sox signed Dawson as a free agent. Dawson hit his 400th career home run with the Red Sox on April 15 at Fenway Park. Dawson sustained a knee injury early in the 1993 season in a game against the Texas Rangers which limited him to only 121 games in his first year with the Red Sox: "I got caught between sliding and standing up on a passed ball. I was on second base, and I took a chop step between strides and hit the corner of the third-base bag. I had knee surgery and [Boston] decided to use me in the DH role."
Dawson would have knee surgery the following year as well, and only managed to play 75 games in his second and final season with Boston. Dawson played his last two years with the Florida Marlins, where he played sparingly, retiring after the 1996 season. In his final game, Dawson was removed from the field as a final farewell to the fans and the game. The fans gave him a standing ovation as Dawson walked off the field. He returned to the Marlins shortly thereafter when he accepted a position in the team's front office, where Dawson got his first World Series ring in 2003. He currently works in the Marlins organization. Dawson also owns The Mahogany Grille, a soul food restaurant in Miami Gardens, Florida. Dawson regularly attends Chicago Cubs functions since his retirement, and is a fan favorite. Dawson is currently appearing in a "Discount Double-Check" commercial for State Farm Insurance that features former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood.
Dawson released his autobiography "If You Love This Game: An MVP's Life in Baseball" in May 2012.
Dawson finished his career with 2,774 hits, 438 home runs, 314 stolen bases, and 1,591 RBI. He is one of only eight players in major league history to record over 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases in his career (300-300 club); the other players to accomplish this are Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds, Reggie Sanders, Steve Finley, Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltrán. Dawson is also one of only five members of the 400 HR-300 SB club, along with Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, and Carlos Beltrán.
In 1997, Dawson's #10 was retired by the Montreal Expos in his honor (the number had been previously retired for Rusty Staub). After the franchise moved to Washington, the Montreal Canadiens raised a banner in the Bell Centre to commemorate all of the retired Expos numbers, including Dawson's. In 2010 the Washington Nationals franchise placed Dawson in its "Ring of Honor" at Nationals Park.
Dawson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010, his ninth year of eligibility, rising from an initial vote total of 45.3% in 2002 to 77.9% in 2010. Dawson's Hall of Fame plaque depicts him with a Montreal Expos cap.
The major impediments to Dawson's election to the Hall of Fame had been his ordinary career .323 on-base percentage, his statistics being diminished in stature by sluggers who played after him in the steroid era, and never playing in a World Series. Cubs teammate Ryne Sandberg campaigned for Dawson's induction during his speech at his own Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2005: "No player in baseball history worked harder, suffered more or did it better than Andre Dawson. He's the best I've ever seen. I watched him win an MVP for a last-place team in 1987 [with the Cubs], and it was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen in baseball. He did it the right way, the natural way, and he did it in the field and on the bases and in every way, and I hope he will stand up here someday."
Andre Dawson was the second player in the Hall of Fame whose plaque depicts him with an Expos logo, after Gary Carter. Although Dawson had played the majority of his 21-year career with Montreal, he publicly expressed his disappointment with the decision, saying it was "a little gut-wrenching" to find out he would not go in as a Chicago Cub. Dawson's reluctance to be enshrined as an Expo stemmed, in part, from the breakdown of his relationship with the team during MLB's collusion scandal of 1986–87, when he claims the team not only "threw him out" of Montreal, but tried to prevent other teams from signing him as a free agent. While Dawson played only six years with the Cubs, five of his eight All-Star appearances were as a Cub, and his only MVP award came in his first year with the team in 1987. The Hall noted that "Dawson had 1,575 of his 2,774 hits as an Expo, won six of his eight Gold Glove awards in Montreal and led the Expos to their only postseason series win".
Andre Dawson's nickname, "The Hawk", was given to him by an uncle at a very early age. Andre used to work out with a men's team that would hit him ground balls at practice. Andre's uncle told him that most kids his age would shy away from the ball, but Andre attacked the ball like a hawk. The name stuck.