Three years after his pitching helped the Cardinals to a National League pennant and World Series title, Jim Kaat used his skills as a talent evaluator to help St. Louis to another championship season.
Acting on Kaat’s advice, the Cardinals got Cedeno from the Reds _ 30 years ago, on Aug. 29, 1985 _ for minor-league outfielder Mark Jackson.
The deal rejuvenated the Cardinals and Cedeno.
Filling in for injured first baseman Jack Clark, Cedeno batted .434 (33-for-76) with six home runs in 28 games, sparking the Cardinals to the 1985 NL East Division title and on a path to a pennant and a berth in the World Series.
After clinching the division crown in the next-to-last game of the 1985 season, Herzog told The Sporting News, “If we hadn’t got Cedeno, we would have been at least three games out of first, maybe more, going into this last week.”
With the Astros from 1970-81, Cedeno batted .289 with 343 doubles and 487 stolen bases. He won the Gold Glove Award five years in a row (1972-76), was named an all-star four times and twice led the NL in doubles.
The Astros traded Cedeno to the Reds in December 1981 for third baseman Ray Knight. By 1985, Cedeno, 34, had fallen into disfavor with Reds manager Pete Rose.
Cedeno, eligible to become a free agent after the 1985 season, said he expected to be traded. He’d heard the Blue Jays were interested.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, were in Cincinnati for an Aug. 26-28 series with the Reds. Kaat, who pitched for St. Louis from 1980-83, and Herzog met for breakfast.
In his book “White Rat: A Life in Baseball,” Herzog said, “Kaat told me that Cesar Cedeno might be available to us, to fill in for Clark. Cesar was on the outs with Pete Rose … Kaat said he thought (Cedeno) could still play.”
The Cardinals and Reds arranged a deal.
“I’m very happy an opportunity like this _ to play with a contender _ came around,” Cedeno said. “I will welcome whatever they want me to do. I’m thrilled an organization like the Cardinals has interest in me. It’s a great feeling to be wanted.”
When the trade was made, the Cardinals led the second-place Mets by 2.5 games.
A right-handed batter, Cedeno had hit .241 in 83 games for the 1985 Reds, but the Cardinals saw him as a capable candidate to platoon with Mike Jorgensen at first base until Clark, who had suffered a rib injury on Aug. 23, could return to the lineup.
The trade paid immediate dividends.
In his first at-bat with the Cardinals, Cedeno hit the first pitch he saw from the Astros’ Mike Scott for a home run on Aug. 30 at St. Louis. Boxscore
A week later, on Sept. 6, Cedeno, pinch-hitting for Jorgensen, clouted a grand slam off Gene Garber in an 8-0 Cardinals victory over the Braves at St. Louis. Boxscore
“I was looking for him to try to get ahead (of the count) … He’s always around the plate,” Cedeno said to the Associated Press.
Cedeno had eight hits in his first 16 at-bats for the Cardinals. “He’s been awesome, hasn’t he?” Cardinals pitcher John Tudor said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. It seems like every time he’s up he hits the ball on the nose.”
Beat the Mets
On Sept. 10, the Mets beat the Cardinals at New York and moved into first place in the NL East, a game ahead of St. Louis.
The next night, Sept. 11, produced a matchup of aces: the Cardinals’ John Tudor vs. the Mets’ Dwight Gooden. Both were sharp and the game was scoreless through nine innings.
In the 10th, Jesse Orosco relieved Gooden. The first batter he faced was Cedeno. Orosco hung a slider and Cedeno belted a home run, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. Tudor held the Mets scoreless in the 10th, clinching the victory and moving the Cardinals into a tie for first place with New York. Boxscore
Four days later, Sept. 15, with the Cardinals clinging to a half-game lead over the Mets, Cedeno went 5-for-5 with four RBI in a 5-1 St. Louis victory over the Cubs at Chicago. Cedeno had two singles, two doubles, a two-run home run and a stolen base. Boxscore
Cedeno said he recently had spoken with Rose and told him, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for trading me to St. Louis.”
Said Herzog: “He’s been a blessing to us.”
In his month with the Cardinals, Cedeno hit .528 (19-for-36) at home and .541 (20-for-37) against left-handers. He had a .477 batting average (21-for-44) with runners on base. Cedeno further endeared himself to Cardinals fans by shredding Cubs pitchers at a .560 clip (14-for-25) with nine RBI.
It was a different story in the postseason. Cedeno hit .167 (2-for-12) in the NL Championship Series versus the Dodgers. Playing in his only World Series, Cedeno batted .133 (2-for-15) against the Royals.
In March 1986, Cedeno signed with the Blue Jays, got released before the season began and was picked up by the Dodgers. In June 1986, the Dodgers released him, A month later, he signed with the Cardinals and was sent to Class AAA Louisville.
Cedeno hit .169 in 20 games for Louisville and never returned to the big leagues.
Previously: How Cardinals’ Jim Kaat appeared forever young