Looking back at… Cesar Cedeno
Looking back at...
Cesar Cedeno

(c) Houston Astros
Most Astro fans have heard the story of Cesar Cedeno. If they haven't, then they need to be told. Cedeno burst into the major leagues in 1970 as a supremely talented 19-year-old whom everyone thought was going to take the league by storm. By 1972, he was arguably the best player in the National League and seemed on track to become one of the all-time greats.

When Leo Durocher took over as manager in 1972, he dubbed Cedeno as "the next Willie Mays." This was high praise indeed, and the expectations for Cedeno turned out to be higher than even his amazing physical abilities could take him. He suffered through some personal problems, never developed the home run power that was expected, and eventually left the game as an example of unfulfilled potential.

This is an incorrect evaluation of Cedeno. While it is true that he didn't become the next Willie Mays, nobody else has managed to do that either. Like so many other excellent hitters in Houston (Wynn, Morgan, Watson, Cruz), Cedeno's offensive numbers were suppressed in the pitcher-friendly Astrodome. But Cedeno was very good -- baseball historian and sabremetrician Bill James ranks him as the 21st-best centerfielder of all time. That's a fine ranking for any player, even someone who was supposed to be the next Willie Mays.

The article below was written by John Wilson and appeared in the August 19, 1972 edition of The Sporting News. It was written just as Cedeno was establishing himself as a star and is an excellent read on the details of Cedeno's rise to prominence.

A head-first slide by Cesar Cedeno came to naught in this case. Ump Billy Williams calls Cedeno out at the
plate after he was tagged by Met pitcher Jim McAndrew, who covered the platter on the play.

(c) Houston Astros

Cesar Cedeno… The Next Super Star?

by John Wilson

HOUSTON, Tex. - Henry Aaron and Roberto Clemente are 38 years old. Willie Mays is 41. The sands of time inexorably spill on. Only Clemente has managed to stave off manifest erosion of the once magnificent skills.

These were the National League's super outfielders of their era, "super" used in the classic and restrictive sense. Others were excellent. But these were colossi.

Who will replace them? The No. 1 possibility is Cesar Cedeno, Houston's dynamic Dominican. Cedeno may already be the best outfielder in the National League.

That possibility was suggested in a pressbox conversation a few weeks ago. There has been some tendency to think of Cedeno in terms of the future, mainly because there haven't been any 21-year-old bona fide outfield stars in quite a few years.

But on this particular day, after Cedeno had made an exceptionally fine catch, stolen a base and hit a home run, someone said, "That fellow is going to be the best outfielder in the league before very long."

He May Be Best… Now!

And somebody replied, "Name a better one today, better right now." The reply, after a moment of thought, was "Clemente."

"Maybe," the first person conceded. But as of now, Cedeno is leading Clemente in every offensive category.

Chicago's Billy Williams probably is a better hitter than Cedeno now. But Cesar makes up for much of that in base running (33 stolen bases at this writing) and is the superior fielder with a stronger arm.

That Cedeno had arrived as a genuine star was borne out in The Sporting News poll of players for their All-Star choices. Cedeno led all National League outfielders in votes, being named on 167 of the 257 ballots, 11 more than Clemente.

Naturally, Cedeno, who finished seventh in the fans' voting, was named to the squad by Manager Danny Murtaugh. Cesar delivered a single in his first All-Star time at bat.

Cesar said he was not disappointed that the fans did not name him to the starting lineup. He said, "Some day many years from now, they will be saying, 'They name Cedeno to the All-Star team every year -- it is somebody else's time.' "

Praised by Clemente

Clemente said Cedeno has more talent than anyone who has come into the league in his time. But he does not think that Cedeno should be called "another Clemente," as has so often been done.

"I don't think it is fair to him," Clemente said. "When I came up, I did not like to be compared with other players."

Cedeno agreed. "I don't want to be the second Clemente, I would rather be the first Cedeno," he said. It was a line first used by Tiger scout Jack Tighe, who like most big league scouts always ends up talking about Cedeno when watching the Astros.

Baltimore scout Jim Russo called Cedeno "the best young player in baseball."

The comparison of Cedeno to Clemente is natural because their styles are similar. Both have power, but hit the ball to allfields and are not primarily home-run hitters. Clemente's season high was 29. Cedeno had hit 15 after 99 games this year.

A Colorful 'Hot Dog'

Both Clemente and Cedeno play aggressive, all-out baseball with not a little flamboyance. Both have been accused of "hot-dogging."

But Los Angeles' Maury Wills probably put that in perspective last year. "When a player like Cedeno is on the other side, he's a hot dog," the veteran shortstop said. "When he's on your side, he plays hard and is colorful."

"Clemente and Cedeno are the two most exciting players in baseball today," said Houston Manager Harry Walker, who has managed both. "Whether they're catching the ball or throwing it or running the bases or batting, they do it all-out and with a flair. When they're involved, you're always on edge expecting something to happen. They make things happen."

Cedeno has a strong arm, although not quite as powerful and accurate as Clemente's, which many baseball people regard as the best ever. The young Dominican is 6-2 and weighs between 190 and 195. Clemente pointed out that he is only 5-11 and weighs from 180 to 185. "He is going to get bigger," Roberto said. "When he gets his full maturity,he's going to weight 215-217 pounds."

To that, Cedeno laughed. "Oh, no, I'll never weigh that much," he said. "If I weighed 215, I could hit that Texaco sign," he said pointing to the advertisement high up behind the pavilion seats in the Astrodome.

Opposite of Hank Aaron

Cedeno's style is the opposite of Aaron's. Hank just gets the job done. He has done the exceptional as if it were routine. It was this lack of ostentation coupled with the fact he did not play in one of the big communications centers that made Aaron's true recognition late in coming.

Aaron recognizes Cedeno's ability. Asked who was the last player with that much ability to come into the league, Aaron said simply, "Me."

Cedeno signed with the Astros in October, 1967, for a $3,000 bonus. That figure seems surprisingly small for a player with such remarkable talents. But the big bonuses go to players who have established their credentials under intensive scouting.

The $3,000 bonus to Cedeno was large in his circumstances. It was the result of an on-the-spot decision by Houston scout Pat Gillich, a judgment probably as good as any he ever will make if he scouts another 30 years.

Cedeno was a 16-year-old in Santo Domingo who did not even have a reputation in the Dominican Republic. Gillich and Tony Pacheco were combing the islands in the fall of 1967 when they stopped to watch a game in Santo Domingo.

Card Scout Outsmarted

"We noticed this kid and liked the way he moved, his actions and size," Gillich said. "We saw him throw and then we saw him go up and get a hit and go up and get another hit. We decided we wanted to look at him. After the game, we arranged for him to go with us and some more players to San Pedro, about 60 miles away, for a workout Monday morning."

The workout at San Pedro was planned to escape being seen by other scouts, since the Caribbean is open territory and does not come under the draft rules that apply in the U.S.

Gillich discovered that the Cardinals already had talked to Cedeno and offered him $500, then $700, then $1,000 but his father had refused to let him sign. "He did not want me to play baseball but to go to school," Cesar said.

After the workout at San Pedro, Gillich and Pacheco decided they wanted this young fellow. They went to the Cedeno home late that afternoon. The Cardinal scout, meanwhile, had returned to the U.S. but was due back to Santo to see Cesar play.

Gillich dickered with the elder Cedeno, offering $1,200, then going to $1,500. The discussion had gone on for quite a while when one of Gillich's Dominican bird dogs came to the door and said the Cardinal scout was on his way to the home. "He told me the scout would be there in 15 minutes," Gillich said.

A Quick Decision

Gillich made a quick decision. He went to Mr. Cedeno and said, "Let's settle this. I'll give him $3,000." The elder Cedeno agreed.

When Gillich walked out the front door with the contract in his hand, the Cardinal scout was getting out of his car. Gillich held up the contract and said, "You're a few minutes too late."

Cedeno was 17 when he hit .374 in 36 games at Covington in the Appalachian League. He was moved to Cocoa in the Florida State League and hit .256 in 69 games. The next year he played the full season at Peninsula in the Carolina League and batted .274.

The Astros rated him a prospect, but certainly not at the top of the list. He was just a young player who had possibilities. The Astros did think enough of Cedeno to send him to the Florida Instructional League.

He was now 18, and his ability suddenly exploded. Scouts from other teams came back from Florida with reports a Houston kid named Cedeno was the bestplayer in the Florida Instructional League. Cedeno then shifted to the Dominican Winter League and continued his sensational play.

The Astros had planned to put him in Class AA ball in 1970, but decided to send him to Oklahoma City at the Triple-A level instead. One of Houston's minor league people said, "I wouldn't put him at Oklahoma City."

"Too fast for him?" he was asked.

"No, Cedeno's too good for Triple A."

He was. In 54 games at Oklahome City, Cedeno batted .373, knocked in 61 runs, hit 14 doubles, nine triples, 14 home runs and stole nine bases.

The Astros, having started 1970 with high hopes, had flounded for 2 1/2 months. And although the Astros hated to break into the fantastic season Cedeno was having at Oklahoma City, and still feared rushing him too fast, it was decided to call him up.

Immediate Sensation

Cesar was 19 years old and went into center field as the youngest regular in the major leagues. He hit .310 in 90 games, hit seven home runs, batting in 42 runs, mostly at the leadoff spot, and stole 17 bases.

As a second-year man, Cedeno batted only .264. He hit 10 home runs. But he lead the team in runs batted in with 81. And he led the National League in doubles with 40.

Which brings us to 1972.

On August 2 against the Reds in the Astrodome, Cedeno completed a rare feat, hitting for the cycle -- a single, double, triple, and home run in one game.

It was the Astros' 99th game and Cedeno was leading the league in hitting with a .353 average. He had scored 71 runs, stroked 24 doubles, 5 triples and 15 home runs, and had knocked in 49 runs while batting in the No. 2 position. He also had stolen 33 bases and played brilliantly in center field.

Red's Manager Sparky Anderson said, "Cedeno is the best player I've seen this year. If Houston were to win it, he'd be MVP."

Mom Gets Credit For a Big Assist

HOUSTON, Tex. -- When Cesar Cedeno was a youngster, his father did not like him to waste time playing baseball. Diogene Cedeno had a little store in Santo Domingo and he wanted Cesar to help him and help Mrs. Cedeno at home.

But his mother was Cesar's ally. She let him slip off and play baseball when he was supposed to be helping her at home. Mrs. Cedeno even bought him a glove and shoes without his father's knowledge.

Diogene Cedeno is now the proud father of the game's newest and most exciting star. He's planning his first trip to the U.S. soon to see Cesar play. The elder Cedeno is now a foreman in a nail factory at Santo Domingo.