Dubbed “The Me decade” by Tom Wolfe, the 1970s saw events ranging from the rise of disco to the fall of Saigon, and ultimately the dramatic fall of disco. In baseball, meanwhile, it was all about cool hairstyles and mini-dynasties, with the A’s, Reds and Yankees each winning two—or in the A’s case, three—World Series in a row. It would seem, then, that the talent was condensed around a few teams.
But that’s not true. There are other players, and, in fact, other teams to consider as well. No, really! There are.
Cesar Cedeno, born Cesar Cedeno Encarnacion, played viciously all throughout “The Me Decade” and deep into the 1980s. He was signed by the Houston Astros as an amateur free agent in 1967, and debuted with the squad on June 20, 1970 at 19 years of age. Cedeno batted .310 in his rookie campaign, finishing 4th in Rookie Of The Year voting. He started the next year where he left off and led the majors in doubles, and his batting average rose to .320 in 1972 and 1973. A Gold Glove award winner, Houston manager Leo Durocher compared Cedeno to Willie Mays, saying “At 22 [he] is as good or better than Willie Mays at the same age.”
Possessing a rare combination of blazing speed, power and stout defense, Cedeno became the second player in major league history (after Lou Brock in 1967) to smash 20 home runs and steal 50 bases in one season. He also stole 50-plus bases the next three years (1975-1977), twice led the league in doubles (1971-1972) and brought home 102 RBI in the 1974 campaign. He would finish in the top 10 of stolen base leaders from 1971-1978 and again in 1980.
How’s that for a Me Decade stat line?
Cedeno won five consecutive Gold Glove Awards (1972-1976), appeared in four All-Star games (1972-1974; 1976) and was a contender for National League MVP in 1972.
Cedeno’s playing career lasted seventeen seasons from 1970 to 1986. During that time he played for the Houston Astros (1970-1981), Cincinnati Reds (1982-1985), St. Louis Cardinals (1985) and Los Angeles Dodgers (1986).
In a 17-year career, Cedeno was a .285 hitter with 199 home runs and 976 RBI in 2006 games. He finished with 550 stolen bases, and the 487 base swipes he accumulated with the Astros ranks him first on the franchise’s all-time leader list ahead of Craig Biggio.
Why isn’t Cesar Cedeno often talked about when it comes to cool ’70s baseball players? Who knows. Perhaps it’s because he played a steady game of team ball during a decade that highlighted the loudest individuals. He didn’t have a cool hairstyle, nor did he make controversial remarks to the press. He was on the other hand a team player! Nevertheless, Cedeno was, despite putting the team first, a superstar ballplayer who ironically made a name for himself during a decade in baseball exasperated by individual style and play.