Sunday, July 22, 2018

The King of Topps Traded - Rick Cerone

I spent a little time looking through the Topps Traded sets of the 80s, and there are many familiar faces like Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield, Rookies of guys like Bonds, Bo Jackson, Greg Maddux, Fred McGriff, etc. But I noticed one player that kept popping up - Catcher Rick Cerone. The Card above is not from the Traded set - though he had already been traded twice by 1982. Cerone was a first round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians, but was coveted by the expansion Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto gave up Rico Carty to Cleveland in exchange for making Cerone the Opening Day starting catcher for the first game in Blue Jays history. When Thurman Munson was tragically killed, the Yankees made the move to acquire Cerone to be their everyday starter behind the plate.

Cerone's best season came in 1980, his first with the Yankees. He even earned enough recognition to finish 7th in the MVP voting for the season (He was 3rd among Yankees behind Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage. He did get one writer's first place vote). After the 1980 season, his production declined and he gave way to Butch Wynegar. He continued as a back up for several years before being dealt to Atlanta in exchange for Rookie pitcher Brian Fisher.

Fisher had a few very good seasons for New York, but Rick would be on the move again after one season for the Braves, as Atlanta traded Cerone and two minor leaguers to Milwaukee for Ted Simmons. Cerone would once again play second fiddle, getting reps behind Charlie Moore in Milwaukee.

George Steinbrenner had his favorites, and among them was Rick Cerone. Following the '86 Season, Cerone was a free agent and the Yankees picked him up again, now to be the primary catcher in New York. He caught 113 games in 1987 for the Yankees and also appeared twice as a pitcher. He finished two games and gave up no runs, finishing his MLB pitching career with a 0.00 ERA.

During Spring Training of 1988, The Yankees decided that catching duties would be shared with Don Slaught and Joel Skinner, so Cerone was the odd man out. The Yankees released Cerone on April 4th, and the Red Sox picked him up about a week later to platoon with Rich Gedman in Boston. The Sox made the playoffs, though Cerone did not play in any of the ALCS games against Oakland.

"Italian Stallion" is quite the nickname for Rick, given to him by Phil Rizzuto of all people...

The 80s were busy for Cerone, and the 90s started out the same way. After 2 seasons in Boston, he would return a third time to New York, now sharing time with Bob Geren. He only appeared in 49 games in 1990, but had the highest batting average of his career, reaching a mark of .302 for the season. With Matt Nokes on the horizon, Cerone again found himself looking for a new job in the offseason.

He didn't have to travel far, as the Mets were looking for a back up behind Charlie O'Brien. He actually did the bulk of the work, appearing in 90 games for the Mets. This too, would end up as a temporary stop, and he would again head north of the border for work in 1992.

Cerone probably should have appeared in the 1992 Traded set, but he missed the cut. He played in just 33 games for Montreal, but was released in July. Gary Carter had returned to Montreal and Darrin Fletcher was taking up the slack as well. Cerone does appear on two cards as an Expo - the 1992 Leaf set and 1992 Topps Stadium Club.

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