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Cesar Cedeno 1976

August 28, 2009

Cesar Cedeno 1976

After I finished reading Leo Durocher’s Nice Guys Finish Last, I started reading something completely different, a 2005 novel called Prep by a young woman named Curtis Sittenfeld. It is so good I want to carry her around with other acolytes on one of those Egyptian royalty conveyances and chant her name. It is so good that a couple mornings ago I got buried in it and missed my goddamn stop on the train and was late for work, something that has only happened once before in my extremely extensive life of reading on trains, and that previous time, many years ago, was because I happened to be in the midst of a very long girlfriend-less slump and so was particularly attentive to a long fuck scene in Sexus.

Sittenfeld’s book is set in a boarding school in Massachusetts (named Ault in the book; the author went to Groton School), and part of the ache in my gut as I devour her crystalline glimpses of a young life taking shape in that setting comes from the sliver of my own past that took place at a boarding school in Massachusetts. I was only there for two years, or actually less than two years since I didn’t quite make it all the way before being ordered to leave. I’ve covered that before on this site, but in a way I don’t think I’ll ever fully cover it, or recover from it. It’s too much.

It’s an odd thing to long for, a year and a half that I spent feeling like an addle-brained maladapted misfit until I discovered I could pulverize those feelings with bong hits. But there was a certain high concentration of experience there, such a striking contrast to my solitary rural life before and the solitary urban life that has come after, that makes it stand out as more unreachable and haunting than any other of the many unreachable and haunting places in my past. But high concentration of experience isn’t quite the right notion. Sittenfeld may be getting it right when she uses the word possibility:

This was the single best thing about Ault, the sense of possibility. We lived together so closely, but because it was a place of decorum and restraint and because on top of that we were teenagers, we hid so much. And then, in dorms and classes and on teams and at formal dinners and in adviser groups, we got shuffled and thrust together and shuffled again, and there was always the chance you might find out one of the pieces of hidden information. . . . Depending on circumstances, a wild fact could be revealed to you, or you could fall desperately in love. In my whole life, Ault was the place with the greatest density of people to fall in love with. (p. 42)

I think we all must be haunted a little by the times in our lives when we felt a greater sense of possibility. Even that tenacious, focused warrior Leo Durocher seems to have been guided in a certain key way by a persistent attachment to a bygone feeling of boundless possibilities.

I say this because of the way he speaks in the book about Pete Reiser, the great and unlucky Brooklyn Dodger centerfielder whose career was cut short by injuries often brought on by his gung ho fielding style, which led him to crash into many unpadded outfield walls. At one point, and fairly famously, I think, Durocher claims that, if anything, Reiser was more talented than the greatest player Durocher (or anyone) ever managed, Willie Mays. “Might have been better,” Durocher says, comparing Reiser to Mays. After he was done managing these two centerfielders, Durocher was always on the lookout for the next Mays or Reiser, always looking for a way to return to a time bursting with the possibilities that a player of that caliber could bring to a team.

After managing Reiser’s Dodgers and Mays’ Giants, Durocher managed the Cubs, a team that seemed to have bothered him with its lack of a player like Reiser or Mays who could do it all. The possibilities with the Cubs slimmed down to the blunt inelegant flip of a coin that was the plodding center of their attack: the all-or-nothing slugging abilities of Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and Billy Williams. When he finished with the Cubs he must have believed that he was finished for good. At a certain point you let go of the search to reconnect to that long gone feeling of possibilities.

But then Durocher decided to give it one more try, and the reason was simple: After all these years, he looked out to centerfield and thought he saw the glory of the past coming back to life. He looked out to centerfield and saw Cesar Cedeno.

“Natural talent?” Durocher noted. “Cesar Cedeno has it to burn.”

Unfortunately for Durocher, Cedeno seems not to have possessed the one thing that had connected the athletically limited Durocher (in 17 seasons as a player: 24 home runs and a lifetime batting average—in the batting average Mecca of the 1930s—of .247) to the athletically blessed Reiser and Mays: a burning desire to excel. Cedeno, it should be noted, ended up having a long, good career, but Durocher is certainly not the only observer who thinks that he could have done much better. By the time this card came out, in 1976, Cedeno was still only 25 years old, but his two greatest seasons, 1972 and 1973 (coincidentally or not the two seasons that Durocher served part of or the whole season as manager), were already behind him.

“You spend your life looking for the great talent that comes along about once a decade,” Durocher says while speaking of Cedeno, “and you have to sit there and see it being thrown away.”

You spend your whole life looking for possibilities. You spend your whole life looking for Willie Mays and Pete Reiser. You spend your whole life disappointed.

***

But, on a lighter note, it turns out Durocher wasn’t forever on the lookout only for a do-it-all centerfielder. . . .

Here’s some video footage of Durocher’s scouting attempts to sign a hard-throwing country boy (who in the youtube silent narration is recast as Roger Clemens).

And here’s some more video footage of Durocher’s encounters with a freakishly talented slugger.

15 comments

  1. The school was named after Doug Ault, right?


  2. Funny that you mention Doug Ault, who came to a terrible end in a parked car; one of the things I meant to get to in this post but didn’t was another terrible end in a parked car for a ballplayer, a death that is marked by the patch on Cedeno’s shoulder (Don Wilson, who died of carbon monoxide fumes in his garage).

    Another unexplored element of the Cedeno card is the blank helmet, just like with the George Foster card I posted last week. The fact that both of the blank-helmet cards have the team name on the uniform also obscured leads to me believe that the photo was created to be something that could, if needed, be used without the express written consent of major league baseball, such as the Hostess cards that someone mentioned in response to the Foster post.


  3. Great post as usual.

    Cedeno is easily one of the 10 most underrated players of the last 40 years.

    I think the notion that Cedeno somehow “threw away” his talent is unfair. If Cedeno had played in a hitter’s park like Fenway or Wrigley or at least a neutral park like Bush stadium he would be considered a borderline HOF candidate.

    He was a much better player than recently elected Jim Rice and he was a least as good as Andre Dawson. Dawson had a longer career but at his peak Cedeno was the better player.

    Cedeno like Wynn, Cruz, Staub, Watson, and to a lesser extent Biggio, Bagwell, and Joe Morgan, had their overall perception of productivity severely diminished because of the negative affects of the Astrodome towards offense.

    Cedeno was a 5 time gold glove center fielder whose Median OPS+ from the years 1972-1978 was 132.

    1972-ops+ 162
    1973-ops+ 152
    1974-ops+ 127
    1975-ops+ 132
    1976-ops+ 139
    1977-ops+ 123
    1978-ops+ 127

    One of the top 5 players in the National League from 1972-1976. (IMO)

    Cedeno also singlehandedly got the Cardinals in the playoffs in 1985 hitting .434 during the last 2 months of the season.

    Cedeno like those other great Astros’ hitters, always reminded me of one of those great Russian violinist, who was forced to play in a subpar Soviet facility with horrible acoustics, thus never allowing the audience to fully realize how great a player he really was.


  4. Josh,

    I agree with you logo-less photograph point. This was probably a photo originally intended for Hostess or some other promotional type card.

    What it shows me is that Topps was just getting lazy and cheap during these years. What’s the big deal, Topps couldn’t find a photo with Cedeno’s uniform and hat logo??

    I guess Topps didn’t care because they had a virtual card monopoly at the time but I think it just makes the cards look cheap and kind of cheesy. Basically, it’s stuff like this that opened the door for Fleer and Donruss in 1981.


  5. “You spend your whole life looking for possibilities.”

    Ineed.

    There are countless examples. (Cedeno is one of them, and you can include recent Cardboard God Danny Thomas, amongst so many others.)

    Vision. Hope. Future. We all share the same thing. We all look to the future and we see wonderful experiences and places. Yesterday, we need to appreciate where we all came from and respect and appreciate the history of yesterday. We need to find the place we all belong. It is here. It is now. We recollect about yesterday (we all love it so, as we should). There was Fleet Walker, Cy Young, Babe Ruth, C. Mathewson, Jackie Robinson, DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Mantle, Mays, and Reggie Jackson.


  6. Good post, Josh. Johnq stole my thunder in suggesting Cedeno was probably one of those victims of his park, though looking at his meager games played totals, I wonder if he either didn’t want to stay in the lineup (or maybe was simply cursed by injuries like Rieser.) Maybe some Astros fans from that time will have some insight. Was it all park effects? I remember Bill James saying that if you didn’t play in Fenway (or a few other select parks) you basically could not win a batting title and that unless you played in Baltimore (or a few other select parks) you basically could not win an ERA title.

    I never realized until recently what a blue chip prospect Cedeno was considered early on. He was consistently a member of my APBA teams when we drafted players, so I always kept tabs on him, and all those years, I didn’t know he was viewed as a disappointment. There are so many things we’ll never know about these guys, whether they stayed up by taking uppers or fell back because of drinking or whatever. I’ll bet if Cedeno had played with the Yankees, he’d be viewed like Bernie Williams (there’s more to baseball life than OPS+, but just looking them both up, they’re at 123 and 125, for what it’s worth.)


  7. “looking at his meager games played totals, I wonder if he either didn’t want to stay in the lineup (or maybe was simply cursed by injuries like Rieser.)”

    Durocher’s [culturally insensitive] answer to those ponderings about Cedeno is that it was a combination of the two, but with an emphasis on the “he didn’t want to stay in the lineup” part:

    “So now I’m managing the Houston ball club, and I can see that the talent [of Cedeno] is there, but he is not like Willie Mays [who] came to the park every day to the put on the uniform and play. I never knew when I came to the park whether I’d have Cedeno. With Cedeno it was: Me no feel good today, me got tummy ache. Me got headache, I dunno if I can play. He had a very high susceptibility to injury and a very low threshhold of pain.” (p. 432)


  8. I can never hear “low threshold of pain” without thinking of Mike Marshall, the erstwhile Dodgers slugger of the early ’80s. He was another can’t-miss prospect who often had his toughness questioned. Not much else in common with Cedeno, though — Marshall was slow of bat and lead of foot, and his prospect status derived from minor league stats inflated by playing in the PCL.


  9. sansho1: That Mike Marshall (as opposed to the tough workhorse reliever of the same name) was also renowned, at least in my mind, for “getting” Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Gos.


  10. Well, Durocher’s take on Cedeno’s potentialities is pretty clear anyway.

    Josh, I had taken, from your previous mentions of being expelled, that you had a bit of an insouciant attitude about being kicked out of that school. Imagine my surprise to see you indicate in this entry that it was a traumatic aspect of adolescence.

    (Drug use reminds me of Todd Snider’s–the guy who wrote the Doc Ellis/LSD song– take on steroids in baseball: in sports, if you take a drug to make you perform better, you get banned, in music, taking drugs to get better is basically mandatory.)


  11. His name’s always been “Mister Leo Doo-rocher” ever since I first saw that Beverly Hillbillies episode.

    There was a documentary called “King of the Hill” about the Ferguson Jenkins’s 1972 and 1973 seasons with the Cubs. Durocher managed the team for the first part of 1972, and Reiser was one of the coaches. It’s been a while since I saw it, but I remember that the players were happy when Durocher was fired. I think they hated Reiser too. They show it on the Documentary Channel every now and then.


  12. Enjoyed the Durocher clips on YouTube. I can’t resist adding this one, where Leo scouts another slugger from 1960’s era Sitcom League:


  13. Durocher probably described the left fielder’s play in that clip as horse—-.


  14. Great news for Cesar Cedeno fans as well as Astros fans, Cedeno is back with the team. (Article halfway down the page:

    http://houston.astros.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110320&content_id=17040366&notebook_id=17040398&vkey=notebook_hou&c_id=hou#17040392


  15. Cedeno one of the Prime 9 of the 1970’s



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