“When a player like Cedeño is on the other side, he’s a hot dog,” Dodger shortstop Maury Wills said. “When he’s on your side, he plays hard and is colorful.”
In both positive and negative ways, César Cedeño fit some of the stereotypes of Latin ballplayers. He was at times described as “cheerful and happy-go-lucky”, as well as “moody and bad-tempered.” On the diamond he was blessed with speed, great fielding instincts, and batting ability: a five-tool Latin American outfielder in the mold of Roberto Clemente and Minnie Miñoso before him.
Clemente was from Puerto Rico and Miñoso hailed from Cuba, but Cedeño was born in the Dominican Republic, a nation that shares an island with Haiti in the Caribbean a few hundred miles south of Florida. Today, Dominican natives dot professional rosters, making up a good percentage of the overall number of players under contract. But back in the late 1960s when Cedeño was signed as a 16-year old, it was still unusual for Latin players to become stars. Sadly, the U.S. media often misunderstood these players and stereotyped them.
As an outfielder, Cedeño had a powerful throwing arm, covered a lot of ground in center field, and was known (like Clemente) to be flashy. He rarely dove, but he did often make routine plays look a little more difficult. Years before Rickey Henderson used his famous ‘snap-catch”, Cedeño did likewise and he even used the basket catch at times a la Willie Mays. Playing on artificial turf in Houston’s Astrodome, Cedeño won five straight Gold Gloves from 1971-1975.
In 1973 during the off-season, Cedeño accidentally shot a woman in a hotel room in the Dominican Republic. The girl, who was not his wife, died. Cedeño was not charged with any crime, as the shooting was ruled an accident. Indeed, forensic tests showed that Cedeño had not shot the gun, but the girl had. The incident was the first of several that marred Cedeño’s reputation. Late in his career he was charged with domestic violence.
While he had been compared to Clemente (and even Hank Aaron) as a young player, Cedeño never reached the superstardom some thought he could. By his 29th birthday, Cedeño had more than 150 homers, 1,500 hits, and 475 stolen bases. He had a .290 batting average through the age of 29, but his 30s were not as kind to him. He collected just over 500 hits after his 30th birthday and hit only 41 homers and stole 75 bases while hitting .271 in six seasons.
In 1985 he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals at the August trade deadline and recaptured some of the magic from his All-Star days. In 28 games with the Cards, Cedeño hit .434 with six homers and 19 RBI to help St. Louis win the NL East. It was his last hurrah, however, and after struggling with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first two months of the following season, he was released, signed by the Cardinals again, but then released a few weeks later. His career was over.