Cesar Cedeno And The Astros Career That Could Have Been

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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Cesar Cedeno: What might have been
I've written in the past that I loved watching Jeff Bagwell play baseball. He's the best all-around player the Astros have ever had; a superb hitter, base runner and a fantastic defensive player. I've never seen anybody who was better at turning the 3-6-3 double play and he was fearless when it came to charging the batter on bunts.

But before Jeff Bagwell, there was another Astros who was just as good, and possibly better, at all facets of the game. His name was Cesar Cedeno. Cedeno played on the team from 1970 through 1981, and at times, I think he has been a forgotten player to the majority of Astros fans. Of course, when Cedeno played, the team was mostly one of the worst in the majors and there were very, very few fans attending games in the Astrodome.

Cedeno came up as a 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic during the 1970 season. He played 12 seasons for the Astros, hitting 163 homers during a time when it was nearly impossible to hit a home run inside the Astrodome. He stole 487 bases, won five Gold Gloves for his outstanding defensive play in centerfield and went to the All Star Game in 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1976.

He twice hit for the cycle in his career, and he was the second player in MLB history to hit 20-plus homers and steal 50-plus bases in a season; hitting 22 homers and stealing 55 bases in 1972 and 25 homers and 56 stolen bags in 1973 -- the first player to do this was Lou Brock. He led the NL in doubles in 1971 and 1972, and his career slash line for his years with the Astros was .289/.351/.454 which was remarkable for a player playing in the Dome before the fences were moved in.

Yet Cedeno is not much celebrated in Astros lore. Part of the reason for that is probably derived from the fact he did not live up to the huge hype he was hit with early in his career. Leo Durocher, who was one of Cedeno's first managers, said Cedeno was the next Willie Mays, and that carried a lot of weight seeing as how Durocher had been Mays' first major league manager. But after his first several seasons, Cedeno's numbers began to drop, particularly his power numbers.

Cedeno also created many of his own problems. He was charged with the involuntary manslaughter of his mistress in December, 1973. Dominican authorities gave him a sentence of 20 days and a small fine. He suffered problems with his temper while playing, such as the brawl with Ray Knight on July 4, 1979 after Knight challenged the Astros to a fight. In 1981, after striking out during a game in Atlanta, he charged into the stands and fought a fan who was calling him a killer. And after his career, he continued to suffer brushes with the law caused by his temper, including more violence issues with girlfriends.

I had the fortune of attending many Astros games as a kid, back when a good crowd in the Dome was 10,000. And I loved watching Cedeno play. I didn't know of his issues. I didn't know he wasn't living up to hype generated by one of his former managers. What I remember watching a fantastic ballplayer, easily the best centerfielder in the history of the Astros.

There wasn't a ball hit to any part of the Dome outfield that he couldn't get to, and it would have been fun to see what he would do with the craptastic outfield configuration at Minute Maid Park. And if there was anybody on those teams who was going to hit a home run, it was Cedeno, not that he needed a homer as he was a threat to score any type he reached first base. And you can't help but wonder what his numbers would have looked like had he not played on such bad teams, or had he played in Minute Maid Park with the Crawford Boxes to aim for.

And while Cedeno's currently a hitting coach for the Astros' Rookie League team in Greeneville, it would be nice to see the team find some way to honor him in Houston and give him his due. Sure he's had his on and off-field difficulties, but so have Roger Clemens and Jeff Bagwell. Cedeno's never going to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but that doesn't mean he should remain a forgotten figure in the city where he played for most of his career.

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NRG Astrodome

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14 comments
JohnW
JohnW

Great article. When I turned 21 in 1992, Cedeno would hang around this local sports bar in Clear Lake. I saw him several times since his girlfriend lived in the area. He was no slugger, but his base stealing and extra base hits are right up there with many greats of the game.

John
John

Amen.  Cedeno was my favorite for years in the 70s, when I was 7-12 years old and a member of the "Astro Buddies" kids fan club.  

dsalvia
dsalvia

I take issue with the assertion that during Cedeno's tenure the Astros were mostly one of baseball's worst teams. They were .500 or better 7 of the 12 seasons and they made the postseason in 1980 and 1981 after just missing in 1979. In that span only twice did they have a record worse than 79-83---their only two really bad seasons between 1970-81---whereas three of the other 5 teams in their own division were worse than 79-83 six times (Giants), nine times (Braves), and 11 times (Padres).

Chuck
Chuck

Man, I forgot Joe Morgan too. That was good times going to those games back then. I remember sitting behind the Astros dugout once and Cedeno faked the throw back to J.R. Richards, so when the guy went to lead off first, Cedeno tagged him out. Ha ha. Those were days when you could see Pete Rose, Mike Schmidt, or Gary Carter, Willie Stargell. Phillies, Reds, Cubs, Pirates, Dodgers, Mets, and Expos...seems to be the teams I remember most.

Tom Kirkendall
Tom Kirkendall

Cedeno was a legitimate five-tool player whose gross statistics were diluted by the era in which he played and by playing in the Dome -- he is not in the top ten Astros hitters in either OPS or OBA, and he is only 10th in SLG.  However, in regard to stats that are calculated in relation to an average NL hitter during the same era in which Cedeno played, he ranks much better -- he is behind only Bagwell, Berkman, Biggio and Cruz in runs created against average and behind only Bagwell, Berkman and Cruz in total runs created or saved against average (includes runs saved by defense). I've always considered Carlos Beltran to be the modern improvement on the Cedeno model -- the five tool player who could switch hit and who had patience at the plate. I think Cedeno would have benefited greatly from playing longer with Joe Morgan while both were in their primes so that Cedeno could have experienced Morgan's patience at the plate.   

Chuck
Chuck

I forgot Bob Watson

Chuck
Chuck

The names that come to mind from when I was a kid... Cesar Cedeno Joe Sambito Enos Cabell Craig RRReynolds Terry Puhl Jose Cruuuuz Art Howe - "Show 'em Howe, Art!" Joe Niekro J.R. Richards Who am I forgetting?

big red
big red

Looking back, you have to feel sorry for Cedeno after he accidentally shot his mistress. The abuse he took at Wrigley Field, in Spanish no less, was brutal. And it never let up. I can only imagine what he heard when he played in New York, LA, and Philadelphia.

Festus
Festus

Ray Lopez Knight was nothing but a loud-mouth punk who deserved every punch he ever got, including those from Cedeno. 

Chuck
Chuck

And Alan Ashby

Reeseman
Reeseman

He caught plenty of flak here in Houston too after the shooting. I know because my friends and I were giving it to him, from the outfield seats. We felt sorry for his mistress, and we were of the opinion that the DR inquest was a cover-up.

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