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From the archives | April 15

Andre Dawson joins 400 home run club

The first 399 were hit in Candlestick Park, Wrigley Field, Chavez Ravine, the Astrodome and other National League outposts. The first 399 were hit when he was an everyday outfielder.

In the second inning of last night’s electric, 4-3, 13-inning Red Sox victory, Andre Dawson hit home run No. 400 while playing the new role of designated hitter. His 400th was his first as a DH, his first as an American Leaguer and his first in the direction of a Citgo sign.

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Dawson’s 400th homer was a line shot into the screen monster over Fenway’s left-field wall. It came long before the pulsating heroics of Jeff (they got him on Spec) Richardson.

Andre’s 400th went into the safety net that once welcomed drives hit by Dick Stuart, Tony Conigliaro, Carlton Fisk and Jim Rice.

And so now he walks with the diamond gods. Dawson’s smash off Jose Mesa makes him one of 25 men who’ve hit 400 homers in the big leagues. With the legitimate exceptions of bowser Dave Kingman and four who are not yet eligible, all members of the 400 Club are in the Hall of Fame. Dawson will be there sometime after the turn of the century.

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“It means I have been around a long time,” he said humbly. “It’s a milestone. I was happy to finally get it out of the way.”

Mesa put a 1-1 curveball out over the plate and Dawson drove it into the twilight. He’s 38, his knees are Jell-O and it hurts to watch him run. But he’s got the quick bat of a 28-year-old Rice.

Dawson’s 400th inspired a muffled round of applause from the gloves-and- mittens crowd of 22,505 (many of them were gone by the time the cold marathon ended). Everybody in the Red Sox dugout came out to slap him on the back.

Four hundred homers. It’s quite an achievement. Too bad the fans of Montreal and Chicago couldn’t be here to share the moment.

In our graceless age of statistics and hyperbole, too much is made of milestones. There are too many contrived (40-40, 40-40-20, 2,500-400, 25-or-6- to-4) clubs. When Al Kaline retired with 3,007 hits and 399 homers, there weren’t any SABR get-a-lifers around to tell him he was throwing away a chance for true immortality. Carl Yastrzemski became more famous, and somehow better than Kaline, because he was the first (and still the only) American Leaguer to get 3,000 hits and 400 homers.

There’s nothing diluted about Dawson’s 400. He’s hit 17 or more homers for 16 consecutive seasons. He is not simply hanging around to achieve some contrived clique.

Two players in baseball history hit 700 homers: Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. The 600 Club is Willie Mays surrounded by himself. There are 11 guys between 500 and 600. This group features hitters named Williams, Killebrew, Mantle and Foxx. Now Dawson is one of 11 between 400 and 500. He’s in there with Gehrig, Musial, Stargell and Yaz. There’s only one dog in the 400 Club. Only Kingman. The rest are thoroughbreds.

Dawson knew he was tied with Kaline. He knew Duke Snider (407) is the next player ahead of him.

“You’re talking about the elite players in the game,” he said. “Players you read about and hear stories about. They were the best that played the game.”

Dawson’s first homer was hit on May 18, 1977, off the immortal Buzz Capra. Sixteen years. Capra to Mesa. Four hundred.

All winter long, we heard about Dawson’s “presence.” He came here with the reputation as the nicest, most respected man in baseball. He has done nothing to discourage the advance billing. He is a professional athlete of dignity. It’s probably no coincidence that the Sox clubhouse is a more civil, professional and fun workplace since Dawson arrived.

“I’m glad I was on his team when he did that,” said Mo Vaughn, another home run hero last night. “Andre is a class individual. He’s very special. He’s a quiet leader who leads by example. He’s just a class act.”

Al Forrester is the man who saw to it that Dawson got the special 400 ball. A veteran grounds crew person, Forrester is the official Fenway Screenmeister. Luckily, Matt Young didn’t pitch last night, so there weren’t dozens of balls to cause screen confusion. Dawson got No. 400.

You can be pretty sure this ball won’t turn up on the Home Shopping Network. Dawson dedicated No. 400 to his late grandmother, Eunice Taylor.

The man is all class. And now he’s one of the top 25 home run hitters who ever lived.

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