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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 dpease@baseballprospectus.com.

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