May 19 – Happy Birthday Rick Cerone

90udFor one brief shining moment in his Major League career, it looked as if Rick Cerone was becoming the heir to the Dickey-Berra-Howard-Munson succession of great Yankee catchers. The moment actually lasted for one entire regular season and 147 games in 1980, the year after Munson died. New York had acquired Cerone from the Blue Jays during the offseason and thrown the then 25-year-old Newark, New Jersey native into the huge empty space behind Yankee Stadium’s home plate to see if he would sink or swim. He responded with career highs in home runs with 14, RBIs with 82 and a .277 batting average, quickly becoming a hit with Yankee fans.

The shining moment then ended for Cerone almost as quickly as it began, spurred on by two events. The Yankees lost an ALCS for the first time in their history after that 1980 regular season and in 1981, Major League went on strike. Cerone hit just .244 during the strike-shortened season and then got into a famous locker room argument with “The Boss” during the ’81 World Series, putting his Yankee career on much thinner ice. Cerone’s batting average over the next few seasons fell into the toilet and by 1985 his Yankee career was over, when he was traded to the Braves.

He would make seven more moves during the next eight seasons and one of them was to Boston, where he was signed as a free agent at the beginning of the 1988 regular season to serve as Rich Gedman’s backup. He did fine in that role, getting into 84 games and averaging a decent .269. In 1985, he actually caught more games for the Red Sox than Gedman did. By then, however, Cerone was in his mid thirties and one of his traditional strengths behind the plate, a strong throwing arm, had begun to desert him. Boston let him walk at the end of ’85 and he ended up walking all the way back to the Bronx and re-signing with the Yankees. He retired as a player after the 1988 season, his 18th year in the big leagues.

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