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The Best Rookies of the Spring, The James P. Dawson Award Winners (Part 6, 1980-1984)

by Paul Semendinger

March 10, 2021


Of note – 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. The cover image on our home page is cropped from this Tweet.


The 1980-1984 Award Winners

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


Highest All-Time WAR of Players Highlighted (thus far) In This Series:

Willie Randolph 65.9

Roy White 46.8

Don Mattingly 42.4

Jose Rijo 35.0

Tom Tresh 22.0

Norm Seibern 21.0

Tony Kubek 18.4

Jim Beattie 14.8




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