After a decade of stardom with Montreal, Dawson reached new heights with the Cubs. A free-swinging righthanded batter susceptible to being hit by pitches (he led or tied for the league lead four times) Dawson was a complete player with the Expos, outstanding at bat, in the field, and on the bases. On September 24, 1985, he became the second player in major league history to hit two home runs in an inning twice in a career (having previously done it on July 30, 1978). Still, he was largely overshadowed in Montreal by the popular Gary Carter and as a power-hitting NL outfielder by Dale Murphy, who got to play half his games in homer-friendly Fulton County Stadium.
Dawson led NL outfielders in chances three straight seasons (1981-83), but the artificial surface at Olympic Stadium took its toll on his knees. By 1986 he was determined to play on grass. He foiled the collusion of the owners to check the free agent market by signing a blank contract with the Cubs, which they filled in with a salary far below market value ($500,000). Rejuvenated by natural grass and day baseball, and helped statistically by the move to the league’s best offensive park after ten years in one of its worst, he turned in an MVP season in 1987, leading the NL with 49 homers and 137 RBI. He was the first player on a last-place team ever to win the MVP. And he recovered on the salary as well when the Players Association won a significant judgment against the owners for the collusion.
Though he never approached his 1987 numbers again, Dawson remained a feared hitter even at the end of his Cub tenure in 1992. On May 22, 1990, he set a major league record for intentional walks received in one game when he got five in a 16-inning contest. Dawson tied for the NL league in intentional walks that year with 21 — half his walk total for the year. His lifetime on-base percentage was only .323.
At the end of the 1990 season he stole his 300th base, making him a member of the exclusive 300/300 club. The Red Sox signed him as a free agent for the 1993 season, using him mostly as a DH for two years. But first his power and then his average declined, and the Miami-born Florida A&M; graduate returned to the NL when the Marlins signed him as a free agent.
By the end of his career Dawson couldn’t hit righthanded pitching and was an outfield disaster due to the ever-worsening condition of his knees, but he was retained by the Marlins for one last season due to his popularity and leadership. Announcing his retirement in advance, he had a farewell tour of the league in 1996. At the close of his career he ranked 22nd all-time in homers and 23rd in RBI.