|THE NEXT WILLIE MAYS.|
|EVEN TOPPS RECOGNIZED A BUDDING ''SUPER-STAR.''|
THE FRONT PAGE
- "The Next Willie Mays'' is a declaration that's as much curse as praise. But it's what Cesar Cedeno had to live up to as a 21-year-old, courtesy of new Astros manager Leo Durocher in 1972. That also was the year Cedeno established himself as a five-tool superstar, hitting .320 with 22 homers, 39 doubles and stealing 55 bases. Plus, he won the first of five consecutive Gold Gloves. What could go wrong? A few things, actually, mostly injuries and an off-the-field incident that left deep scars. After 17 seasons with four teams, he ended up a classic "What if'' case study joining Tony Conigliaro and J.R. Richard.
THE BACK PAGE
- Call me a sucker for the screwball cartoon.
- Good to see Topps mentioned his stolen bases because it never listed them in the stat line.
- What a beautiful classic. The orange-red from Cedeno's sleeves and cap and yellow and blue border hinted at what the Astros would be doing with their jerseys in a few years.
- Signed in '67, Cedeno made his major-league debut at age 19 three years later, hitting 21 doubles, seven homers and stealing 20 bases in 90 games.
- In addition to Durocher's praise, by midseason '72, others were trying to put Cedeno's impending stardom in context. With Mays and Hank Aaron past their primes, some said Cedeno was the best in the game, with only Roberto Clemente in the conversation. Almost everyone agreed on one thing: He was the best young player in the game.
- Cedeno basically carbon-copied his '72 season the following year, hitting .320, with 25 homers, 70 RBI, 35 doubles and 56 steals.
- From '72-'77, he averaged 64 steals. While the Astrodome suppressed his power, the Turf enhanced his speed. But at a cost later on.
- It began to slowly unravel in the '73 off-season in the Dominican Republic, where he accidentally shot and killed his 19-year-old mistress. Luckily for Cedeno, who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, he had Johnnie Cochran defending him and served only 20 days in jail. But Cedeno was never the same.
- In '74, he played 160 games for the first and only time and hit a career-high 26 homers with 102 RBI, but his average suffered (.269) from his wont to pull the ball for power.
- More importantly, knee and ankle injuries began taking their toll, keeping him out of the lineup regularly. From '75-'80, Cedeno played an average of 124 games.
- The final straw was his broken ankle during the '80 NLCS. Until the end of his career in '86, he averaged only 96 games with seven homers, 39 RBI and 12 steals.
- What might have been.