Cesar Cedeño:  The Time Bomb That Always Exploded

By Shotgun Tim Hinely

Appears in ChinMusic! #6

I was never a fan of the Houston Astros, but I did think that Cesar Cedeño was cool. I think I liked his name more than anything , oh, and the first baseball card of is that I ever got. I totally remember when I got that card and he looked really like a baseball god on it.

 

   The first year I began buying Topps baseball cards was 1972 (still probably my favorite year ever for cards). I was 8 years old and we would occasionally make trips up to New Britain, Connecticut to visit relatives (that was where my mom was from). Don’t get me wrong, I used to buy baseball cards from my local 7-11 in Linwood, New Jersey all the time but for some reason they seemed more special when I bought them out of town. Like when we were in Connecticut visiting relatives.

   While in CT, my dad used to wake up early every morning to go down to Jimmy’s Smoke Shop and get thepaper. Just for the record, Jimmy’s is one of the most well-stocked magazine stores I have ever been in, at least it was back in those days. I hope it’s still there, it has to be. Well-stocked and well-respected magazine/newspaper/tobacco shops usually stay in business for years (for further proof , if you’re ever in Santa Rosa, California, check out Sawyer’s News on 4th St. One of the best newsstands I have ever been in, if not the best).

   On this particular visit in 1972 I bought two packs of cards and in one of them was a Cesar Cedeño card.  The Astros uniforms were a cool enough mix of white and sort of an orange-ish red but Cesar’s batting stance on the card looked rad as well! I just remember staring sat this card for hours thinking of how cool he looked. At that point in my life the Pittsburgh Pirates were germinating in the back of my mind as my favorite team. And no, as a matter of fact I have never lived in Pittsburgh but the mix of their rad gold and black uniforms and the fact that my two favorites players, Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente  played for them sealed it (ironically, Cedeño was touted as “the next Clemente” when he first arrived in this country from the Dominican Republic). So up until this day I am a Pirates fan (even though they suck) but I still cherished that Cesar Cedeño card and up until this day that guy has fascinated me. Here’s why:

   Forget about Pete Rose’s gambling and Steve Garvey’s womanizing (tho’ why on earth would you wanna cheat on your wife if she is Cindy Garvey?! That gal is beautiful ! I think she is right, Steve Garvey is a sociopath! ), Cesar Cedeno actually killed someone and go off scot free (it was actually voluntary manslaughter). If that’s not the sign of the baseball rebel that Rose and Garvey tried to be, I dunno what is.

  Oh, the guy had oodles of talent and was supposed to be a bigger dick than, oh, I dunno...Barry Bonds? He won Gold Gloves, fans began calling the Houston Astrodome “Cesar’s Palace” and old crusty manager Leo Durocher said that Cedeño was “better than Willie Mays at the same age.” Sounds like some pretty impressive info to me. Oh, and he hit .320 in both 1972 and 1973…but after the 1973 season, the problems began.

   As the story goes, Cesar had his share of problems with the ladies. He got married as a teenager to a Puerto Rican woman and they had a child together. They eventually got divorced and he married an American woman named Cora. While married to Cora he apparently patronized prostitutes, who sometimes robbed him of his money and jewelry (hey, I never said the guy was smart). For protection he began packing a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson.

 

   In addition to all of this he also had a mistress. She was 19 and her name was Altagracia de la Cruz. On the night of December 11, 1973 they checked into the Keki Motel in the poor section of Santa Domingo while his wife was at their winter home, which was also in Santo Domingo. While in the motel room they had been drinking and the events that happened next are fuzzy. Alta had picked up Cedeño’s gun to look at it and he then attempted to get the gun away from her. For some reason she would not give the gun back to him and they began wrestling over it. The gun went off and Altagracia was found slumped on the floor with a bullet in her head.

   Then, and remember I never said the guy was smart, Cedeño fled the crime scene in his car and didn’t turn himself in until 8 hours later. He insisted that while she was looking at the gun it accidentally went off and killer her. Cedeño was charged with voluntary manslaughter (which in the USA is equal to 2nd degree murder) and since it happened just weeks before Christmas he did not have the greatest holiday season. He spent the holidays in jail with four other men accused of homicide.

   After spending 20 days in jail, the postmortem paraffin test (I just wanted to use the words “postmortem paraffin” in a sentence together) showed that Cedeño was not lying about the incident. Altagracia had indeed pulled the trigger. Charges were then reduced to involuntary manslaughter. The maximum sentence in his country for this crime was three years in jail but Cedeño’s punishment was to pay a fine of 100 pesos. Cedeño was back in the USA the following March for Spring Training, acting as if nothing happened (though the fans didn’t let him forget the incident, often shouting things at him from the stands such as “Murderer!”, and “Who are you going to kill next?!”)

   While Cedeño insisted that this incident would not change his career or affect his playing in any way, it of course did. I can’t think of anyone, especially someone as young as Cedeño, to go through something like that and come out unaffected. In fact, Cedeño would play for 13 more years but he would only hit over .300 once and after 1974 he would never his more than 20 home runs in a season again. He was a good player but his potential for being a great player died that night in the Keki Motel.

If this had been Cedeño’s only brush with the law it could have been said he made one major mistake in life, but violent incidents were a frequent thing for Cesar. In 1985 he was arguing with his girlfriend (another one) and ran his Mercedes into a tree in Houston. He then got violent with the police, refusing a breathalyzer and attempting to kick out the windows of the police car. In 1987, his first year out of baseball, a man bumped up against him in a bar and Cedeño smashed a glass into his face. He was charged with assault and resisting arrest. In 1988 he attacked his then girlfriend (another one) in Webster, Texas. The girl ran outside with their 4 month old baby and Cesar ran outside, snatched the baby and drove away. He returned shortly thereafter, beat the girl up again. It took four policemen to get him into the patrol car. He was charged with assault, causing bodily injury and resisting arrest.

In this day and age of players with ego (Barry Bonds) and temper problems (Jeff Kent destroying a water cooler) it all sounds like small potatoes to the destruction that a true asshole like Cesar Cedeño wreaked. I’ll never look at that 1972 baseball card of his the same ever again.

 

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