May 19 – Happy Birthday Rick Cerone
As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I was far from thrilled with the November 1979 trade that sent Chris Chambliss to Toronto and brought Rick Cerone to New York to replace Thurman Munson as Yankee starting catcher. Besides being a huge Chambliss fan I was hoping Steinbrenner’s front office would go after Ted Simmons, the Cardinals switch-hitting receiver, to succeed Munson.
Cerone’s performance in 1980 helped me get over that disappointment pretty quickly. Even though his lifetime average at the time of the trade was just .229, Cerone hit .277 during his first year in pinstripes, caught 147 games, drove in 85 runs and led the league by throwing out 52% of the runners attempting to steal against him. He was a huge reason why that 1980 Yankee team won 103 regular season games and the AL East Division title. He was also one of the few Yankees who played well in the three game loss to the Royals in that season’s playoffs.
Like many players on many teams, Cerone’s Yankee fortunes began to turn sour during the strike shortened 1981 season. He hit just .244 and his run production per game was less than half of what it had been a season earlier. He gave up more steals as well and for the balance of his eighteen-year big league career, he would never again put up anything even close to the numbers he posted during that 1980 season. Cerone’s most widely publicized moment in pinstripes happened during the weirdly configured 1981 post-strike postseason, after the Yankees lost Game Four to fall into a two-two tie with the Brewers. George Steinbrenner came into the Yankee clubhouse after the game and started berating his players. Cerone screamed right back at the Boss, telling the owner his rants were of no value whatsoever to the team’s performance.Cerone was also not a fan of Yankee skipper Billy Martin and the feeling was definitely mutual.
The Yankees let him go a first time in a 1984 postseason trade with the Braves, for pitcher Brian Fisher. They signed him back as a free agent during the 1987 spring straining season. He was the starting catcher for manager Lou Piniella’s team that year and then caught a lot of games for the Red Sox in 1988 and ’89. New York picked him up a third time, in 1990 and Cerone had the first and only .300 batting average of his career that year, even though his season was comprised of just 149 plate appearances.
After he retired as a player, Cerone formed and owned the Newark Bears Minor League team in his New Jersey hometown. He sold the Bears in 2003.
|NYY (7 yrs)||587||2029||1842||188||459||81||7||31||203||2||122||210||.249||.297||.351||.648|
|TOR (3 yrs)||255||931||851||79||195||39||6||11||91||1||66||84||.229||.285||.328||.613|
|BOS (2 yrs)||186||630||560||59||143||29||2||7||75||0||54||72||.255||.323||.352||.675|
|CLE (2 yrs)||14||30||28||2||5||1||0||0||1||0||1||2||.179||.207||.214||.421|
|NYM (1 yr)||90||258||227||18||62||13||0||2||16||1||30||24||.273||.360||.357||.717|
|ATL (1 yr)||96||316||282||15||61||9||0||3||25||0||29||25||.216||.288||.280||.568|
|MON (1 yr)||33||68||63||10||17||4||0||1||7||1||3||5||.270||.313||.381||.694|
|MIL (1 yr)||68||242||216||22||56||14||0||4||18||1||15||28||.259||.304||.380||.683|