At his induction Sunday into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Dawson charmed the audience with a series of jokes, praised the game that gave him a chance in life, chastised those who tarnished its image, and lamented that so many loved ones were not present to share his joy.
"Thank you for welcoming this rookie to your team" said Dawson, who played for a decade in Montreal before signing with the Chicago Cubs in 1987 as a free agent. "It's an honor beyond words. I didn't play this game with this goal in mind, but I'm living proof that if you love this game, the game will love you back. I am proof that any young person who can hear my voice right now can be standing here as I am."
The 56-year-old Dawson, who endured 12 knee surgeries to forge an impressive 21-year major league career, is the 203rd player in the game's long history to be inducted. Selected in his ninth year of eligibility, the man called "Hawk" took the podium as Cubs and Expos fans roared their approval.
"I never knew what it felt like to be loved by a city until I arrived in Chicago," Dawson told a crowd estimated at around 10,000. "You gave me new life in baseball. You were the wind beneath the Hawk's wings."
He then poked fun at several Hall of Famers on the stage behind him.
"Rickey Henderson mentioned last year that when he was young he waited in a parking lot outside the Oakland Coliseum so that he could ask Reggie Jackson for an autograph," Dawson said. "If I recollect, he said Reggie gave him an ink pad with his name on it. In 1977, I met Reggie at a card show. I was very nervous, but I had just been named rookie of the year, so I liked my chances of getting a signed picture. I asked Reggie for an autograph. Rickey, all he gave me was a candy bar with his name on it."
Dawson, an eight-time All-Star who had 438 homers, 2,774 hits, 1,591 RBIs and 314 stolen bases from 1976-96, then turned serious, warning players not to be lured to the dark side of using performance-enhancing drugs.
"There's nothing wrong with the game of baseball," said Dawson, one of just three to hit 400 homers and steal 300 bases. "Baseball will, from time to time like anything else in life, fall victim to the mistakes that people make. It's not pleasant and it's not right. Individuals have chosen the wrong road, and they're choosing that as their legacy. Those mistakes have hurt the game and taken a toll on all of us.
"Others still have a chance to choose theirs. Do not be lured to the dark side," he cautioned. "It's a stain on the game, a stain gradually being removed."
Dawson, who finished by paying tribute to his late mother, Mattie Brown, who died four years ago, was part of a class that included former manager Whitey Herzog, umpire Doug Harvey, broadcaster Jon Miller and sports writer Bill Madden.
The ceremony also honored Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Fogerty, who sang his classic song "Centerfield." Fogerty wrote the tune 25 years ago and it had been played at the start of induction Sunday for more than a decade.
"I'm truly honored," Fogerty said after playing the song on his guitar "Slugger," which is shaped like a baseball bat and went on display later in the day inside the Hall of Fame. "I wrote that as an 8-year-old boy. That 8-year-old boy right now is saying, 'It ain't getting any better than this.' "
Herzog, 78, who played eight nondescript years for four teams, managed for 18 seasons, 11 with the St. Louis Cardinals after stints in Texas, California and Kansas City. He guided the Royals to three consecutive playoff appearances in the 1970s and led the Cardinals to the 1982 World Series title just two years after he was hired.
The Cards also made World Series appearances in 1985 and 1987 under Herzog, who finished his managing career in 1990 with a record of 1,279-1,123, a .532 winning percentage.
"Ever since I was elected in December, people have asked, 'What's it feel like to be a Hall of Famer?"' Herzog said. "Now I can tell you what it feels like. It feels like going to heaven before you die."
As he has so often in the past, Herzog credited Casey Stengel, the Hall of Fame manager of the New York Yankees and Mets, with much of his success.
"Casey told me so many things that became valuable," Herzog said. "For some reason, he knew that I was going to be a big league manager. When I met Stengel, it was like an enlightening thing because I would go to bed at night, and instead of thinking about girls I would be thinking about what he talked about all day. He had is own language and it took me hours sometimes to figure him out."
The 80-year-old Harvey, who worked in the National League from 1962 to 1992, called 4,673 regular-season games during his major-league career and also umpired five World Series, six All-Star Games and nine National League Championship Series.
Nicknamed "God" during his heyday because of his authoritative, no-nonsense demeanor on the field, Harvey lived up to the moniker on his special day.
Suffering from throat cancer, Harvey recorded his 20-minute acceptance speech in the spring. It began raining while the video was playing, but by the time he addressed the crowd the sun was shining.
"I want you to notice that I stopped the rain," he deadpanned in closing.
Harvey, the ninth umpire to be inducted and the first living umpire inducted since Al Barlick in 1989, joked afterward that "I had less rainouts than anyone else in the world."
"My only ambition has been to improve the profession," said Harvey, who learned from his father and didn't attend umpiring school because he couldn't afford it. "I've tried to mentor, teaching them everything I know about the game."
Harvey clearly was touched by the honor and cried while the recording of his speech was played.
"If you're a true baseball fan, you need to visit Cooperstown," he said. "This is home, and you need to touch home. I'll be watching to make sure you do."