Dunston takes first crack at Hall
Rocket-armed shortstop makes debut on ballot
Most players dream of getting to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Shawon Dunston is on this year's ballot, but he may be the only one who is already in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
The "Shawon-O-Meter," a cardboard sign which Chicago Cubs fans created to chart Dunston's batting average, is enshrined in the Smithsonian. Dunston will find out Jan. 8 if he's headed to Cooperstown. Results will be announced on MLB.com's Hall of Fame Election Show.
Dunston, on the ballot for the first time, possessed a rifle arm, speed and hustle, running hard to first whether it was a groundout or double in the gap.
The slender shortstop was the first overall pick in the 1982 First-Year Player Draft by the Cubs after batting .790 for Brooklyn's Thomas Jefferson High School. He played 18 seasons, starting in Chicago from 1985-95 and 1997. Dunston also played in San Francisco (1996, 2001-02), Pittsburgh (1997), Cleveland (1998), St. Louis (1999, 2000) and with the New York Mets (1999).
A two-time All-Star in 1988 and '90 along with double-play partner and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, Dunston helped the Cubs win the NL East in 1989, when he batted .278 with 20 doubles, six triples, nine homers, 60 RBIs and 19 stolen bases.
Dunston did reach the World Series in 2002 with the Giants, only to lose to the Angels. He finished with a career .269 average, with 292 doubles, 62 triples and 150 home runs.
He didn't flip the ball to other infielders; Dunston threw it, and hard. Fans sitting behind first base at Wrigley Field had to be alert whenever he wound up.
Besides his arm and athletic ability, Dunston is best known for the sign. According to the book "Essential Cubs," the Shawon-O-Meter began in 1989. In April that season, Dunston batted .160 with one RBI. By May 21, he was 15-for-98 (.153). The Cubs were 22-19, and trailed the Mets by a half game.
In Houston, Dunston went 4-for-10 and drove in four of the team's 13 runs to sweep the Astros and move into first place. For the rest of the season, Dunston did not go three games in a row without a hit.
The Cubs returned to Wrigley on June 5 with Dunston riding a seven-game hitting streak and his average up to .203. The sign was the idea of James Cybul, Melinda Lehman and David Cihla. The original, three-fold, sign barely made it through the series before falling apart. The three constructed a new, sturdier sign that would become a fixture in the bleachers.
On Sept. 22, Dunston was hitting .281, which was duly noted by the "Shawon-O-Meter." He finished the season with a 13-game hitting streak, batting .422 in that stretch. He extended the streak to 14 games on Sept. 26 when the Cubs clinched the pennant in Montreal. Dunston would finish the '89 season with a .278 average. He batted .305 against the Mets, .310 against the Expos and .325 against the Cardinals that season.
A 1989 version of the sign, showing Dunston hitting .278, was requested by the Smithsonian.
To get into the Hall of Fame, candidates need 75 percent of the vote; they need 5 percent to stay on the ballot.
In recent years, Dunston was invited to the Cubs' Spring Training camp by then-manager Dusty Baker to talk to the players. His message to the kids?
"I played 18 years, and it went quick," Dunston said. "It went real quick. Give it your best because once it's over, it's over."
He appreciated what the Cubs did for him.
"I live comfortably because of the Cubs," Dunston said. "I never had a job. I never filled an application for a job. I played baseball and now I'm set for life."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.