Rick Cerone turns 67 today.
Cerone was an original Blue Jay. In fact, the Jays traded for Rick, along with John Lowenstein, four months and one day before their first game, sending Rico Carty to Cleveland for him. We had taken Carty from Cleveland in the expansion draft and would get him back in March of 1978.
Cerone played in our first ever game, going 2 for 4 with a double in our win over the White Sox (in the snow). He played four games in that first week before being sent down to AAA. He came back for a game in May and then was up for good in mid-August. He hit .200/.245/.270 in 31 games.
In 1978 he played in 88 games, hitting .223/.284/.298 with 3 home runs, sharing the catcher job with Alan Ashby. After the season, Ashby was traded to the Astros, and Cerone became our full-time catcher for the 1979 season.
He hit a bit better in 1979, .239/.294/.358 with 7 home runs in 136 games.
After the season, we traded Rick, with Tom Underwood and Ted Wilborn, to the Yankees for Chris Chambliss, Damaso Garcia, and Paul Mirabella. Chambliss was flipped to the Braves for Barry Bonnell, Joey McLaughlin, and Pat Rockett. Garcia would go on to play seven seasons with the Jays. Both trades worked out well for the Jays.
Yankees’ catcher Thurman Munson died during the 1989 season when he crashed his plane taking flying lessons.
Cerone had an excellent 1980 season, hitting .277/.321/.432 with 14 home runs (easily his best offensive season), helping the Yankees finish first in the AL East. He finished 7th in MVP voting. He would play five seasons with the Yankees, making it to the World Series once, losing to the Dodgers in 1981.
After the Yankees, he played for the Braves, Brewers, Yankees again, Red Sox, Yankees yet again, Mets, and the Expos (becoming the backup to my favorite, Gary Carter).
He had an 18-year MLB career, hitting .245/.301/.343 with 59 home runs in 1329 games. He was never a great hitting (had 2 seasons with OPS+ over 100), but he was the definition of a hard-nosed catcher. Good defensively, good arm, and was good at blocking the plate. My memory of him is of a dirty uniform.
Cerone had, quite easily, the best career of any of the Blue Jays to play in our first game.
He worked in broadcasting for a few years after retirement. It would be interesting to talk to him about the early days of the Blue Jays and about what he thought about the trade to the Yankees.
Happy Birthday Rick. I hope it is a good one.