The Best Rookies of the Spring, The James P. Dawson Award Winners (Part 4, 1980-1989)
by Paul Semendinger
I originally ran this series a few years ago. As Spring Training dawns, I figured it was worth revisiting again.
My research for this project took me to the wonderful site Baseball Almanac where I was able to access the list of all the James P. Dawson winners in Yankees history. I also used Baseball-Reference for the players’ statistics.
In 1956, the Yankees began awarding the James P. Dawson Award to the best rookie in Spring Training.
I began to wonder how many of these players went on to successful careers with the Yankees or other teams.
Here I continue my examination of that important award and the players who earned it.
James P. Dawson was a longtime Yankees’ reporter with the New York Times. He served as the Chairman of the New York Chapter of the BBWAA.
It was very difficult to find an image of the award itself and it seems there is no actual trophy. Rather, it seems that the player is given a watch. Here is an auction from 2013 that highlights Johnny James’ watch. This photo shows Masahiro Tanaka being presented with a watch as well. In 2018, Miguel Andujar tweeted this photo of him earning his watch.
1980 – Mike Griffin
Mike Griffin ended up pitching a grand total of 18 games as a Yankee from 1979 (3 games), 1980 (13), and 1981 (2) before being traded to the Chicago Cubs in the trade for Rick Reuschel.
Griffin pitched for the Cubs in 1981 and in 1982, he pitched for the San Diego Padres. After the 1982 season, he found himself in Triple-A where he remained until once again reaching the Major Leagues with the Baltimore Orioles in 1987. Talk about determination! Griffin pitched 23 games for the Orioles that year (3-5, 4.36, 1 save). He again returned to the minors, but in 1989, he once again reached the big leagues with the Reds appearing in three games.
All-Time WAR = 0.8
1981 – Gene Nelson
A highly regarded pitching prospect who could throw hard. Gene Nelson was a Yankee only in 1981. He pitched in 8 games putting up a 3-1, 4.81 record over 39.1 innings.
He was traded by the Yankees to the Seattle Mariners in the deal for Shane Rawley.
Nelson would pitch for the Mariners, Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s, California Angels, and Texas Rangers. He pitched for 13 years in the Major Leagues compiling an overall record of 53-64, 4.13 with 28 saves. He pitched for the A’s in the 1988, 1989, and 1990 World Series.
All-Time WAR = 7.4
1982 – Andre Robertson
Oh, what might have been. In 2019, Ed Botti wrote a great article about Andre Robertson.
When Andre came through the Yankees’ system, he was hailed as the next great Yankees’ shortstop. He could field with the best of them, and his bat was looking to be Major League ready.
And then disaster – a car crash – and he was never the same.
Robertson’s entire career was spent with the Yankees (1981 to 1985). He played in 254 games with a lifetime batting average of .251.
All-Time WAR = 0.8
1983 – Don Mattingly
A legend. A great. A fan favorite. A New York favorite. If you are between 50 and 60 years-old, Don Mattingly was the Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, and Derek Jeter to the Yankees of your youth. For a while, he was the greatest.
1984 = .343/23/110 with 44 doubles
1985 = .324/35/145 with 48 doubles
1986 = .352/31/113 with 53 doubles
The Hit Man. Donnie Baseball. He was the Yankees.
No Dawson winner has reached the Baseball Hall-of-Fame, but Mattingly, now a very good manager, just might yet.
All-Time WAR = 42.4
1984 – Jose Rijo
In 1984, Rijo went 2-8, 4.76 in 28 games (5 starts) for the Yankees
Jose Rijo was another top notch pitcher. The Yankees gave up on him way too soon, but they had to as he was a prize piece in the trade for Rickey Henderson. You have to give up talent to get talent, and Rickey Henderson was great talent. A team just can’t pass on acquiring a 26-year-old Rickey Henderson. And Henderson didn’t disappoint those first years in New York.
1985 = .314/24/72, 80 steals, 146 runs, .419 OBP
1986 = .263/28/74, 130 runs, 87 steals
1987 = .291/17/37 (a down year… only 41 steals, 78 runs…
1988 = .305/6/50, 93 steals, 118 runs, .394 OBP
The Yankees traded Henderson in 1989.
Rijo, in his own right, had a very good career. He pitched for the Oakland A’s from 1985 to 1987 going 17-22, 474. He was then traded to the Cincinnati Reds (for Dave Parker) where he put up some very nice seasons:
1988 = 13-8, 2.39
1990 = 14-8, 2.70
1991 = 15-6, 2.51
1992 = 15-10, 2.56
1993 = 14-9, 2.48
Jose Rijo pitched in the big leagues until 1995. He then missed FIVE seasons with an injury and made it back to the Majors in 2001. Between 2001 and 2002, he pitched in 44 games. AMAZING.
Rijo’s lifetime stats are 116-91, 3.24 in 376 games.
I wish the Yankees had never traded Jose Rijo, but the bigger mistake was that they traded Rickey Henderson too soon.
All-Time WAR = 35.0
1985 – Scott Bradley
Scott Bradley was a highly touted rookie. A left-handed hitting catcher who could also play outfield. He was a player who had a lot of promise.
In 1984, in a small cameo, he batted .286 in 9 games. Things were looking good.
After winning the award, in 1985, Bradley played in just 19 games hitting only .163.
After that season, he was part of the trade with the Chicago White Sox that netted the Yankees Ron Hassey. (This was the second time the Yankees traded for Ron Hassey).
Bradley went on to play for the White Sox, the Seattle Mariners, and the Cincinnati Reds. Bradley played seven years with the Mariners and did well. He hit .302 for Seattle in 1986. Two other times he batted in the .270’s.
In 1990, he caught a no-hitter pitched by Randy Johnson.
All-Time WAR = -1.5
1986 – Bob Tewksbury
Bob Tewksbury was another of the young pitchers in the 1980s who the Yankees let get away – or, more accurately, gave away.
In 1986, he showed great promise going 9-5, 3.31 in 23 games (20 starts). A 1-4 start in 1987 saw him shipped off to the Chicago Cubs in the infamous deal for Steve Trout.
He signed with the Cardinals for the 1989 season and had some nice years there. In 1992, he went 16-5, 2.16, was an All-Star, and was third in the N.L. Cy Young voting. He won 17 games in 1993.
Overall, Bob Tewksbury pitched in 302 games going 110-102, 3.92.
All-Time WAR = 21.2
1987 – Keith Hughes
Keith Hughes played in four games as a Yankee. He went 0-for-4.
Hughes ended up playing for five Major League clubs, but each stop was a brief one:
Phillies (37 games) .263
Orioles (41 games) .194
Mets (8 games) .000
Reds (3 games) .000
All-Time WAR = -1.3
1988 – Al Leiter
Al Leiter was one of the pitchers I was most excited for as he came through the Yankees’ system. I predicted greatness for him. I thought he was the future ace for the Yankees.
He was a future ace. He became great, or at least very (very) good, just not for the Yankees.
From 1987 to 1989, Al Leiter went 7-8 as a Yankee. In April 1989, he was traded for Jesse Barfield.
Leiter battled arm problems, but by the mid 1990s, he put it all together. He was a two time All-Star. He pitched a no-hitter. From 1996 to 2004, pitching for the Florida Marlins and the New York Mets, he went 122-88, 3.44.
Leiter was on the World Champion Blue Jays (1993) and Marlins (1997). The Yankees defeated his NY Mets in 2000.
Leiter finished his career with the Yankees going 4-5, 5.49 in 2005.
All-Time WAR = 42.5 (3rd best all-time of the Dawson Award winners thus far, see below)
1989 – No Selection Made
Highest All-Time WAR of Players Highlighted (thus far) In This Series:
Willie Randolph 65.9
Roy White 46.8
Al Leiter 42.5
Don Mattingly 42.4
Jose Rijo 35.0
Tom Tresh 22.0
Bob Tewksbury 21.2
Norm Seibern 21.0
Tony Kubek 18.4
Jim Beattie 14.8