Any player/Any era: Cesar Cedeño

What he did: Cedeño may rank as one of the great “What If?” players in baseball history. Not long after Cedeño debuted with the Houston Astros in 1970, Leo Durocher declared him the next Willie Mays. And while the centerfielder had power good for 199 homers and speed that netted him 550 steals to go with a .285 batting average, he didn’t come close to reaching his Hall of Fame potential. In fact, Cedeño received just two votes out of 430 ballots in 1992, the only year he was eligible for Cooperstown with the writers. Many things hurt his cause, including: 1) A reckless temper and style of play that led to injuries and legal problems; 2) Playing his best years in the cavernous Astrodome; 3) Having his career in the 1970s and ’80s, no great time for hitters.

Era he might have thrived in: With his speed and contact, Cedeño would have appealed to Branch Rickey. Cedeño might not have had the temperament to stand in for Jackie Robinson at Rickey’s behest and stoically break baseball’s color barrier in 1947. But assuming we suspend disbelief about Cedeño’s dark skin color keeping him from the majors prior to this, he might have been a hit with Rickey’s other dynasty, the Gashouse Gang-era St. Louis Cardinals of the 1930s. And considering he’d be playing with future Veterans Committee head Frankie Frisch, who famously enshrined several of his teammates, Cedeño’s place in Cooperstown would probably be assured.

Why: The projected numbers speak for themselves. In 1972, Cedeño hit .320 with 22 home runs, 82 RBI and 55 steals, his OPS at .921, among the best ever by a Houston starter in the Astrodome years. On the 1931 Cardinals, these numbers convert to a .349 batting average, 25 home runs, 100 RBI, 62 steals and a 1.001 OPS. Cedeño might need to play right field since Pepper Martin and Chick Hafey wouldn’t be going anywhere, but otherwise, nothing would prevent Cedeño from playing a vital role on a championship team. He’d also be a young player in an offensive golden age, playing for a general manager who might help his attitude, too. That or he’d be just another one of the boys on those Cards, a fun-loving, hard-drinking club.

Are the projected numbers infallible? I doubt it. While Rickey signed players in part for foot speed and the Cardinals stole a lot of bases for their era, 114 in 1931 alone, it seems unlikely Cedeño could go for 62 steals that year. Granted, Ben Chapman led the American League with 61 steals in 1931, but it was somewhat aberrational. From the dawn of the Live Ball Era around 1920 to Luis Aparicio and Maury Wills revolutionizing the base paths 40 years later, stolen bases were a largely forgotten art in the majors. Frisch led the National League in 1931 with 28, and that’s not even the lowest total for a leader in that generation. All the same, Cedeño could have a shot at 30 steals. A 40-40 season more than a half century before Jose Canseco doesn’t even seem out of the question.

There’s also a question of whether a 21-year-old Cedeño could find a spot in St. Louis’s batting lineup. Rickey famously developed his teams through his farm system and rarely brought up young starters or kept old players around. The ’31 Cardinals exemplify this: Aside from 25-year-old shortstop Charlie Gelbert and 36-year-old third baseman Sparky Adams, every starter was in his late 20s or early 30s. Still, there were occasional exceptions, like Johnny Mize who became the Cardinals’ starting first baseman as a 23-year-old rookie in 1936. Perhaps Cedeño could follow his lead. Regardless, Cedeño would shine whenever he got his moment with those Cardinals.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News RockiesBarry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob WatsonBobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der AheDenny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleEddie Lopat, Elmer FlickFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJack MorrisJackie RobinsonJim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film)Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertOllie CarnegiePaul DerringerPedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey HendersonRoberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam ThompsonSandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWes FerrellWill ClarkWillie Mays

6 Replies to “Any player/Any era: Cesar Cedeño”

  1. I strongly disagree with one clause: “he didn’t come close to reaching his Hall of Fame potential.” I mean, I think that depends on how you think of things. No, his regular statistics are not god enough for the Hall of Fame. However, Adam Darowski includes him in the Hall of wWAR. Cedeno had 52.2 rWAR, 55.2 fWAR, and his 7-year peak was excellent: 42.0 rWAR of 42.7 fWAR. Hall-of-Famer Richie Asburn’s numbers? 58.0 rWAR, 41.5 7-year rWAR (I don’t feel like looking on Fangraphs again). Really similar players, and Ashburn made the Hall. There’s no reason that Cedeno shouldn’t at least be considered. Defensively, he was at the very least not a liability as a young man. And he managed a 123 OPS+ and 127 wRC+ for his career. Looking at era-adjusted numbers and player value numbers, I think Cedeno has a case. Either way, it’s unfair to call anyone the next Willie Mays and expect him to live up to that. No one is Willie Mays. Cedeno may have lived up to his potential. He may not have. Personally, I think that it doesn’t really matter if a guy lives up to his potential or not; if he puts up HOF numbers, he puts up HOF numebrs. Cedeno did just that.

  2. Simply put, once you adjust for era, Cedeño is a borderline Hall of Famer.

    As David said (gosh, it’s weird to see someone beat me to it), Cedeño is in the Hall of wWAR. But just BARELY. And what his inclusion there says is that he’s one of the SIXTY-FOUR best players not in the Hall of Fame. So, do I feel Cedeño belongs in a Hall of Fame that is completely populated by statistical merit? He’s on the borderline there. Do I push him for the Hall of Fame? I don’t. There are bigger fish to fry.

    Among non-Hall of Famers, he ranks fourth among center fielders. Jim Wynn ranks first and is followed by 19th century players Paul Hines and George Gore.

    So, put it another way—I actually rank him as the second best 20th century CF outside of the Hall of Fame. I also rank him ahead of NINE current HALL OF FAME center fielders. That’s like, yikes.

    So, what gives? Well, there just aren’t that many deserving CFs, it seems. While there are very few CFs in the top 200 players all time, the NEXT 200 contains a ton. I’m not sure what to make of that.

    Which CFs missed the Hall of wWAR cut?

    1. Hugh Duffy (who’s in the Hall)
    2. Willie Davis
    3. Tommy Leach
    4. Dale Murphy
    5. Larry Doby (who’s in the Hall)

    Now, if we’re putting the stats aside and talking just Hall of Fame credentials, I have Doby ahead of all of them. Sadly, a limitation of WAR is that Doby only gets credit for what he did on the field in his big league career. Obviously, he was bigger than that.

    And I might like Dale Murphy next just because that peak was so good.

    wWAR could possibly underrate Cedeño, too. He won five Gold Gloves but rates as slightly below average defensively. If WAR is wrong about his defense, he could actually be a few wins better.

    Gosh, Cedeño is complicated. 🙂

    Great post!

  3. Interesting choice. I think he might have been a good enough all-around player to thrive in any era, altough I certainly can’t quible with the one you picked. Maybe he did not live up to the hype or potential, but easily his two best seasons in hitting were at ages 21-22. OPS +of 162 and 152. Then he only made it as high as 140 one more time (147) and only twice into the 130s. He also batted .310 at age 19. He was pretty successful as a base stealer, 75.4%. The league average was 67% in his career. Somehow the Astrodome did not hurt him that much as his home OPS was .787 and road was .792.

    I came up with a crude formula for measuring “all-aroundness” at Cedeno was 8th since 1957

  4. His OPS+ through age 22 was 132. That was as good or better than

    Frank Robinson 132
    Alex Rodriguez 131
    Eddie Murray 131
    Boog Powell 131
    Darryl Strawberry 130
    Orlando Cepeda 130
    Joe Morgan 128
    Rickey Henderson 127
    Al Kaline 127
    Joe Medwick 127
    Cal Ripken 126
    Johnny Bench 125
    Hal Trosky 125

    I used 1000+ PAs. Hank Aaron had 134. Now there were guys who did way better than 132, but it seems like he tailed off from early promise

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