Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Cards #476, Rick Cerone (Article 88)
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
Like so many before him, be burst on the scene with the possibilities for greatness, or, at least, very-goodness, and after a first very impressive season, never quite fulfilled the promise and the hope that lay before him.
Rick Cerone’s Yankees journey began in 1979 on one of the saddest days in the history of our beloved team. On August 2, 1979, the Yankees catcher, and captain, the great Thurman Munson, died in a plane crash.
The Yankees were without a catcher. The internal options were not really options. From August 1 through the end of the year, this is how the Yankees’ catchers, those who replaced Munson performed:
Jerry Narron: 33 games, 62 at bats, 10 hits (.161), 3 homers, 9 RBI’s.
Brad Gulden: 40 games, 92 at bats, 15 hits (.163), 0 homers, 6 RBI’s
Bruce Robinson: 6 games, 12 at bats, 2 hits (.167), 0 homers, 2 RBI’s.
(It is amazing that all three catchers batted in the .160’s.)
Thurman Munson’s tragic death was also the catalyst of another legendary Yankee from the 1970s leaving the team. In order to get a catcher, Rick Cerone, the Yankees traded Chris Chambliss (along with Damaso Garcia and Paul Mirabella) to the Toronto Blue Jays. (Tom Underwood and Ted Wilborn were also included in that deal coming to the Yankees).
In Cerone’s first year, he provided a steady hand behind the plate and batted a very respectable .277/14/85. It might be heresy to say this, but his stats were almost Munson-like.
The problem was that Cerone was never able to match that level of performance again. In that 1980 season, he was amazing. It all came together. He hit, he hit with some power, and he was in the lineup almost every day. He played in 147 games that year.
Unfortunately, for Cerone, and the Yankees, his first season was the pinnacle. He’d never hit that well again or even play that regularly.
In 1981, in 71 games (this was the strike year), he batted just .244/2/21.
In 1982, he batted .227/5/28. He played in just 89 games that year.
It had become clear that Cerone just wasn’t Munson, he wasn’t even a starting catcher.
1983 saw Cerone hit just .220/2/22 in 80 games. He followed this up with a .208/2/13 performance in 1984. That year Cerone suited up for just 38 games.
After the 1984 season, the Yankees traded Rick Cerone to the Atlanta Braves for pitcher Brian Fisher.
After a season in Atlanta (1985) and another in Milwaukee with the Brewers (1986), Rick Cerone returned to the Yankees in 1987. That year he hit .243 in 113 games with just four homers and 33 runs batted in.
Rick Cerone then went to the Red Sox for two years before returning to the Yankees in 1990 where he appeared in 49 games and hit .302. This was Cerone’s only .300 season.
Rick Cerone then finished his career with the Mets in 1991 and the Montreal Expos in 1992.
All told, Rick Cerone was a big leaguer for 18 seasons. He hit .245/59/436 and was a solid defensive catcher.
That 1980 season, though, was the highlight. That year, as the Yankees won 103 games, he finished in 7th place in the MVP voting. There was hope…
It was just unfulfilled.
*** One day I’m going to have to go through the stats and find our how many players were three-time Yankees.
Rick Cerone was one, playing for the Yankees from 1980 to 1984, then again in 1987, and then again in 1990.
I am sure there aren’t many.
When the Braves traded Rick Cerone to Milwaukee, they received in return future Hall of Famer Ted Simmons.
Rick Cerone attended Seton Hall University. I remember Phil Rizzuto talking a lot about Seton Hall, especially that first season that Cerone played for the Yankees.
There have now been 30 total players from Seton Hall to reach the Major Leagues. Some of the most famous have been Rick Cerone, John Briggs, Chuck Connors, Charlie Puleo, Mo Vaughn, John Valentin, and Hall-of-Famer Craig Biggio.