Astro First Baseman Bob Watson, who has been with the club since 1966, thinks it affected Cedeno. "He was so young, so proud, that I think he tried extra hard to prove to everyone that it never bothered him," says Watson. "He had a good season [.269, 26 homers. 102 RBIs], but he altered his swing trying to hit homers. After that, maybe pitchers adjusted, and he hasn't readjusted himself."
Cedeno admits that injuries have chipped away at his physical ability. He hurt his right knee in winter ball in 1972 and has been bothered by both knees over the years. He has had ankle problems, too. "It takes me 20 or 30 minutes to get loose every day," he says. What with those chronic ailments, the injured hand, a foot injury caused by a foul ball in San Diego July 4 and a wrist he jammed running into a wall, he has missed a total of 14 games. Many teammates say he should be playing with small hurts. "I know if I can play," says Cedeno in his own defense. "I have too much pride to play less than 100% and say I was hurt." When he does play, Cedeno is a daredevil. The night of July 4, he jumped high above the center-field fence to rob the Padres' Dave Kingman of a home run and save a victory. The next night he was hurt and he missed the July 6 game in Los Angeles, but the night after that he tried to play and, after hobbling down the baseline to steal a base and crashing into another wall, had to leave. He sat out against a rookie lefthander, Cincinnati's Doug Capilla, on Friday, yet came back against Seaver the next night. "He certainly never dogs it," says Virdon. "In fact, I guess you could say he plays with reckless abandon."
There is a theory that Cedeno simply needs to get out of Houston. "If he did, he'd be the best player in the league," says Joe Morgan, who went from unhappiness in Houston to superstardom in Cincinnati. The complaint is that Houston is a dead baseball town. The team has been in and out of receivership the last four years. "The spectators come in fur coats and ties," says ex-Astro Pitcher Dave Roberts, now with the Tigers. "They're either there to see the Astrodome or sitting in someone else's corporate box." Even Cedeno, who says he does not want to be traded, thinks the atmosphere suffers in comparison with that in Philadelphia, Cincinnati or Los Angeles. "There were 42,000 people in there tonight," he said that evening at the Holiday Inn, "and only six or seven thousand were rooting for us. I'm the only player that anyone recognizes on the street and that's probably only because my picture was in the paper so much after the incident. We get no national publicity." The unsung Watson has hit .300 four of the last five years, and Roger Metzger has never received due credit for his fine glove at shortstop. Few people know that the Astros—with J. R. Richard, Joaquin Andujar, Floyd Bannister and Joe Sambito—have the best crop of young pitchers in the league. But that's the same in any losing town outside of New York and L.A., and the Astros have had but two winning records in 16 years.
"The reason Morgan went on to do so well was that there are such good players around him in Cincinnati," says Watson. "If he goes 0 for 4, he has a Rose, Bench, Foster or someone to pick him up. But we haven't had great talent, so if Cesar, Jose Cruz or I go 0 for 4, we're noticed. It's our fault for losing."
To discuss what Cedeno might do in, say, Cincinnati, is irrelevant, say General Manager Tal Smith and his assistant, John Mullen. Cedeno is going to stay in Houston. "With our young pitching and a couple of other players, Cesar is a cornerstone of this team," says Smith.
"One good thing may come from this season," says Cedeno. "Maybe people will stop calling me the 'next Clemente' or the 'next Mays.' I'm just the first Cedeno, whatever that may be."