Friday, March 13, 2009

#65 -- Cesar Cedeno

Cesar Cedeno

Cesar was one of my favorite players in the 70's. The back of his card says it all, "Hailed as NL's next superstar...." He had a breakout season in 1971 and was one of the players that scouts drooled over. He had all 5 tools. He started the 1973 All-Star Game for the NL in centerfield and won 5 consecutive Gold Gloves. The Astrodome was long known as a pitchers' park and a hitters' nightmare, but the Astros of that day had quite a bit of power with Cedeno, Jimmy Wynn, Lee May and Doug Rader.

Cesar was going to be the next Willie Mays, just like Bobby Murcer was going to be the next Mickey Mantle. Unfortunately Cesar had some run-ins with the law and the Astrodome held him down. Still, despite the precipitous decline in his power numbers following the 1974 season, he still had OPS+ well above league average almost every season.

Cesar's Astro teams weren't very good. There always seemed to be something missing or the Reds and Dodgers were just too good. They had decent pitching, but no real Cy Young candidates until the late 70's. The hitting was strong in the early 70's, but then Wynn, Rader and May were traded away and not really replaced, leaving Cedeno in the lineup with Jose Cruz and Bob Watson, but it wasn't the same.

Finally the Astros improved, largely because of a monster pitching staff, and won the West in 1980. Cesar was a big part of their lineup and carried them. However, he didn't produce in the playoffs. I still think that series with the Phillies is the best post-season series I've ever seen. At this time, Cesar was still a veteran force, although in decline. He was only 29 years old.

When Cesar went to the Reds for Ray Knight, he wasn't the same. You could still see the talent, but he wasn't producing. Finally the Reds gave up on him after a subpar 1985 and let the Cardinals pick him up in late August for a minor leaguer. It looked like his last hurrah, but the Cardinals needed some firepower with Jack Clark out.

Somehow, Cesar summoned up his "next Willie Mays" talent and put the Cardinals on his back. In 28 games he had 6 homers, 19 RBI, 5/6 in stolen bases and .434/.463/.750 in average/on-base/slugging. He hit .476 in his first 22 games with the Cards as they took control of the East. His 6 homers were good for 6th on the team that year and he was only with them for about 1/8 of the season.

He cooled the last 7 games of the season and went into the deep freeze in the post-season, hitting only 4-27 with 1 RBI. He did draw a walk in the 8th inning of Game 6 to move Terry Pendleton into scoring position for Brian Harper to knock him in and give the Cards a 1-0 lead. Every Cardinal fan knows what happened after that.....

Cesar tried to come back in 1986 and had nothing in the tank. For a while in the 90's, if anyone came along with the name "Cedeno" it was thought he'd be a can't miss prospect. At least that's the only way I know to justify the hype given to the late Andujar Cedeno.

Last year Cesar was a coach for the Nationals' Gulf Coast League affiliate. He had a great career. Bill James ranked him as the #21 all-time centerfielder in baseball history. That may not be the "next Willie Mays", but Cesar had a great career and is fondly remembered.

1 comment:

  1. Astros perhaps also suffered from being in a division with two very good teams - Reds and Dodgers - in the 70s.