Rick Cerone turns 68 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.
In our first-ever game, Cerone played, 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 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, the Jays traded Ashby 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. We flipped Chambliss 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. Rick 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 favourite, Gary Carter).
Cerone had an 18-year MLB career, hitting .245/.301/.343 with 59 home runs in 1329 games. He was never a great hitter (he had 2 seasons with OPS+ over 100), but he was the definition of a hard-nosed catcher. Sound defensively, had a good arm, and was good at blocking the plate. My main 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.