Cesar Cedeno and the Spirit of Baseball

In a recent discussion about David Wright, the Primates were seeking comparable players. All manner of names were suggested: Frank Robinson, Bob Horner (Bob Horner?), Jim Ray Hart, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Keltner, Eddie Mathews, Cesar Cedeno… just all over the map.

“Russ,” a Baseball Think Factory poster, cut through some of the clutter and confusion with this comment:

At age 22, Jim Ray Hart had a 94/47 K/BB ratio and almost zero speed. The comparison is not even close … the Cedeno comparison was a lot closer, but then again Cedeno might be the most comprehensively screwed over player in HOF arguments. He played for a bad team most of his career, during an offensively depressed era, in a stadium that kept scoring to historically low levels (and even worse, in a division that had two of the other historically nasty stadiums). He had a very long peak period without any historically outstanding seasons. He had many skills but at no point was he the best player in the league at any single one of them. Every single bias that can go against someone getting into the HOF works against Cedeno.

I don’t know that Cedeno was a HOFer (I’m a small hall guy), but there were a lot of things that worked against his candidacy that he had very little control over.

I thought that this seemed a very reasonable thing for Russ to say. I also thought that it would be interesting, maybe even useful, to move Cedeno’s career from the 1970s and early 1980s to the late 1920s and the 1930s. This would give us lots of Hall of Famers to compare him to, and get Cedeno out of the low-offense era he played in.

It will also take him out of the Astrodome, and we will instead put him in … oh, let’s say we’ll put him on the Cardinals, who he also played for (briefly). We’ll put him in St. Louis, followed by stops in Cincinnati, Boston and Brooklyn. We will shift his career exactly 45 years back, so he would have started in St. Louis in 1925.

Coincidentally, that 1925 Cardinal ballclub really could have used a Cesar Cedeno in centerfield, since they split the center field position among a diverse group of kids and low-talent journeymen. One of those players, Taylor Douthit, took over the job in ’26 as the Cardinals won the World Series. I have no doubt that Cedeno would have certainly been as good a player as Douthit and the Cards would have won just as often with him in there.

Later on St. Louis had Pepper Martin and Ernie Orsatti in center field before finally coming up with Terry Moore, who finally displaces Cesar in 1937. In our imagined scenario, Cesar then moves to a very poor Cincinnati team that does gradually improve, and then finishes his career with the Braves and Dodgers.

I’ll resist the temptation to rename him “Cesare Cerone,” given the color-line implications a Dominican ballplayer would have created in that era. We will give Cesar 95% of his actual plate appearances and games in each season, to compensate for the shorter seasons, and adjust all the statistics to account for the different leagues and parks.

So without further ado, I give you Cesar Cedeno Between The Wars. Remember, this is a five-time Gold Glove centerfielder…

Cesar Cedeno, Inter-War Version, Park-Adjusted and League-Adjusted

 Year Ag Tm  Lg    G   AB    R    H   2B 3B  HR  RBI  SB CS  BB  SO   BA   OBP   SLG  
+----------------+---+----+----+----+---+--+---+----+---+--+---+---+-----+-----+-----
 1925 19 STL NL    86  343   54  124  26  7   5   50  16  4  11  25  .362  .380  .522
 1926 20 STL NL   153  578  106  175  49 11   6  101  20  9  21  48  .303  .325  .457
 1927 21 STL NL   132  531  127  198  46 14  12  101  53 20  45  29  .373  .423  .580
 1928 22 STL NL   132  496   99  177  41  4  16   81  48 13  36  38  .357  .406  .552
 1929 23 STL NL   152  582  131  186  38  9  25  140  46 14  54  53  .320  .375  .545
 1930 24 STL NL   124  480  142  171  43  6  17   96  30 10  49  30  .356  .418  .577
 1931 25 STL NL   143  556  114  191  37  8  16  106  29  8  46  30  .344  .392  .525
 1932 26 STL NL   134  517  109  162  45 11  10   84  26  6  34  27  .313  .362  .501
 1933 27 STL NL    48  187   35   58   9  3   5   26   9  1  11  13  .310  .345  .471
 1934 28 STL NL   125  457   72  137  33  5   5   68  11  5  50  33  .300  .364  .427
 1935 29 STL NL   130  482   94  169  38 10  10   96  16  5  54  44  .351  .415  .533
 1936 30 STL NL    78  296   54   89  21  0   4   43   4  2  20  20  .301  .340  .412
 1937 31 CIN NL   131  472   53  139  34  2   5   59   6  4  38  27  .294  .348  .407
 1938 32 CIN NL    93  320   40   75  16  0   5   39   4  3  28  30  .234  .296  .331
 1939 33 CIN NL   105  360   63  104  25  3   6   49   6  1  23  31  .289  .328  .425
 1940 34 TOT NL   105  285   39   84  15  1   6   51   6  3  21  25  .295  .345  .418
 1941 35 BRO NL    35   75    6   19   2  1   0    7   0  0   7   7  .253  .310  .307
+----------------+---+----+----+----+---+--+---+----+---+--+---+---+-----+-----+-----
                      7017      2258     95     1197     108    510  .322  .371  .488
                 1906      1338      518    153      330     548

Would this proto-Cedeno already be in the Hall of Fame? It is, to my mind, very difficult to imagine circumstances in which he would not be a Hall of Famer, even with the real-life difficulties the real Cesar Cedeno went through. The fact that Inter-War Cedeno hit .322 for his career is in itself probably enough to get him in. The only man to hit .315 and play 1500 games who is not in the Hall of Fame is Babe Herman, who was one of the worst percentage players of his time. Cedeno, instead was viewed as one of the best outfielders and also a fine baserunners, and he was comfortably over both the .315 average and over 1500 games.

This Inter-War Cedeno also had the good fortune of playing for some very fine teams; his Cardinals teams won the pennant five times and the World Series three times, and would almost certainly have won seven pennants if they had had Cesar Cedeno in centerfield in 1927 and 1935. In addition, his Dodger team of 1941 for which he would have played sparingly won a pennant as well (mirroring the real Cedeno’s last hurrah with the 1985 pennant-winning Cardinals).

At times in the history of baseball, players have been stuck in situations where their skills, though considerable, can’t be effectively used by the teams they played on. As a consequence, such players are not remembered as the true greats that they are. Ironically, Cesar Cedeno doesn’t fit that pattern. His skills (outfield defense, good on-base skills, excellent basestealing) were a perfect match for the needs of his teams, and he was an extremely effective player.

Why ironic? Because Inter-War Cedeno’s skills don’t match up with his era as well. Inter-War Cedeno’s home run power and speed are mostly wasted in a singles-and-doubles game with big ballparks where line-drive hitters with .350 batting averages are in the ascendancy. Yet Inter-War Cedeno would have been remembered as an all-time great, while the memory of the real player is already slipping away from us.

Hopefully the growth in popularity of sabermetrics, as it enters the mainstream of baseball thinking, will enable more fans and more members of the press to appreciate the players they see on the field for what they can do, instead of what some columnist says about him, or whether he had 90 RBI or not. It is perhaps odd that a way of thinking in which numbers are so important can be the one to highlight a player’s true value behind the numbers.

A sabermetrician will look at Cesar Cedeno, and will see him utterly differently thanks to park and league adjustments and a willingness to cast aside language barriers, off-the-field problems, and preconceived notions of his “potential.” That sabermetrician will see a remarkable player who could beat you in innumerable ways. Cedeno could beat you with a single, a double, a home run. He could beat you by stealing a base, beat you by drawing a walk. He could beat you with his stellar outfield play too, with a catch or a throw.

Sabermetrics is often criticized for taking the spirit out of the game, by disregarding personalities and “intangibles” and focusing on data. But the data, as a record of what happened on the field, always takes us back to the things that happen between the white lines. The ballgames: that’s where the spirit of baseball truly resides.

Let there be no more neglected Cedenos!

The Real Cesar Cedeno

 Year Ag Tm  Lg     G   AB    R    H  2B 3B  HR  RBI  SB CS  BB  SO    BA   OBP   SLG  
+----------------+---+----+----+----+---+--+---+----+---+--+---+---+-----+-----+-----
 1970 19 HOU NL    90  355   46  110  21  4   7   42  17  4  15  57  .310  .340  .451
 1971 20 HOU NL   161  611   85  161  40  6  10   81  20  9  25 102  .264  .293  .398 
 1972 21 HOU NL   139  559  103  179  39  8  22   82  55 21  56  62  .320  .385  .537  
 1973 22 HOU NL   139  525   86  168  35  2  25   70  56 15  41  79  .320  .376  .537
 1974 23 HOU NL   160  610   95  164  29  5  26  102  57 17  64 103  .269  .338  .461
 1975 24 HOU NL   131  500   93  144  31  3  13   63  50 17  62  52  .288  .371  .440
 1976 25 HOU NL   150  575   89  171  26  5  18   83  58 15  55  51  .297  .357  .454 
 1977 26 HOU NL   141  530   92  148  36  8  14   71  61 14  47  50  .279  .346  .457 
 1978 27 HOU NL    50  192   31   54   8  2   7   23  23  2  15  24  .281  .333  .453 
 1979 28 HOU NL   132  470   57  123  27  4   6   54  30 13  64  52  .262  .348  .374 
 1980 29 HOU NL   137  499   71  154  32  8  10   73  48 15  66  72  .309  .389  .465 
 1981 30 HOU NL    82  306   42   83  19  0   5   34  12  7  24  31  .271  .321  .382  
 1982 31 CIN NL   138  492   52  142  35  1   8   57  16 11  41  41  .289  .346  .413  
 1983 32 CIN NL    98  332   40   77  16  0   9   39  13  9  33  53  .232  .302  .361  
 1984 33 CIN NL   110  380   59  105  24  2  10   47  19  3  25  54  .276  .321  .429 
 1985 34 TOT NL   111  296   38   86  16  1   9   49  14  6  24  42  .291  .347  .443  
 1986 35 LAD NL    37   78    5   18   2  1   0    6   1  1   7  13  .231  .294  .282
+----------------+---+----+----+----+---+--+---+----+---+--+---+---+-----+-----+-----
 17 Seasons           7310      2087     60      976     179    938  .285  .347  .443  
                 2006      1084      436    199      550    664

References & Resources
The inspiration for today’s article came from “Russ” at Baseball Think Factory.

Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com for much of the data used in compiling this piece as well as the “look and feel” of stat presentation.

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