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November 2, 2000
The Daily Prospectus
I first became really interested in Andujar Cedeno's career when I opened the paper one morning in December of 1994 and saw the Padres and the Astros had swapped rosters. Sure, Steve Finley and Ken Caminiti were the big names coming to town, and I was glad I would no longer have to watch Derek Bell on cruise control in center field (or at third base, for Pete's sake) for the home team anymore. But there were two names that interested me more than the rest.
As you might guess, the first was Roberto Petagine, a minor-league on-base machine who Tal Smith tossed at his boy Randy as a throw-in. Petagine could probably still start for a dozen major league teams.
The other name was Cedeno, and as I posted to the Usenet newsgroup rec.sport.baseball later that day, he looked like a probable key to the deal. Finley and Caminiti were aging, and while I loved their defense, they didn't hit a lick. Cedeno, on the other hand, had hit .349/.412 while playing half his games in the Astrodome, most of them as a 23-year-old and all of them at shortstop. It's sometimes tough to remember, but in 1993 that was some tasty production from the shortstop position.
Cedeno had an off-year in 1994, hampered by injury, but I wasn't sorry to see Ricky Gutierrez shipped off as part of the deal, leaving the shortstop position to Cedeno.
My, how things change. Former glove merchants Finley and Caminiti both topped a 900 OPS in 2000, and nobody was really surprised. Former stiff Ricky Gutierrez put up decent numbers as the Cubs' starting shortstop. Even coming off a good season in the Astrodome, this qualified as a surprise. And former major-leaguer Andujar Cedeno, still a young man at 31, died in a car crash last weekend in the Dominican, which is both a surprise and a damn shame.
There weren't many San Diegans who would call Cedeno one of their favorites by the time his breathtakingly unsuccessful career with the Padres came to an end in 1996. As a Padre fan, I was quite disappointed at the flashes of talent he coupled with a startling inability to do the things rec league players in parks across the nation do for free every weekend: hit the ball sharply once or twice a game, keep his head in the game on defense and generally look like he was keeping track of what's going on. Cedeno often seemed to be in his own little world. (For those of you who are keeping score, Andujar Cedeno may be gone, but Ruben Rivera is probably channeling him right this minute.)
I became a Cedeno fan early in 1996. I was watching the Padres lose a game to, I think, the Dodgers, and was lucky enough to have a large, drunken man sitting next to me and generally making a jackass of himself. When he wasn't making eyes at the ladies, he was shouting at the players, sounding like the epitome of a tortured Padre fan. According to this fellow, the Padres couldn't do anything right. Despite the fact that he was quite inebriated, he did know enough to play the odds.
The Padres had just taken the field, and the pitcher was tossing his warmups to the catcher. Whoever was catching (probably Brian Johnson, considering what happened next) made a terrible throw back to the pitcher, a toss that glanced off the hurler's glove and rolled slowly into center field. After a pregnant pause, Cedeno trotted off to retrieve the ball.
That set the drunk off. I can remember it vividly: with a guttural rumble that certainly triggered car alarms in the parking lot, he roared "Goddamn Cedeno! You got to back that $#%&)ing play up!"
I wouldn't say I felt sorry for Cedeno, but at that minute I felt an appreciation of the stuff that a player in his shoes has to go through. Even if you're in your own little world, it's got to be a little obnoxious to be shouted at for failing to back up warmup tosses. As soon as the drunk opened his mouth, Andy Cedeno became the underdog for me. Sure, he wasn't great. OK, he wasn't even good. But he didn't deserve to be castigated by a drunken buffoon. Not in this instance, anyway.
Cedeno was out of the majors by the end of 1996, and I doubt anyone but his agent, his immediate family and I noticed. Hailing from the Dominican Republic, it wasn't like there was some small town somewhere proud of their native son for being one of the top thousand people in the world at his craft, if only for a few years. Cedeno disappeared without a ripple.
That's another reason I was pulling for him to make the unlikely climb back to the majors. Now that quest is over. I didn't know him, but I'm going to miss Andujar Cedeno all the same, and I can only hope he's in a better place now, one where the balls hop straight, the strike zone is called by the book and the drunks are just a little bit gentler on the lesser players.
Dave Pease can be reached at email@example.com.