Remember Cesar Geronimo?

I remember Cesar Geronimo very well, thank you. During the days of the Big Red Machine, it seems like Geronimo becomes lost in the big names among the position players that were on those teams. Most will point out the likes of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Tony Perez. You’ll even hear George Foster, Ken Griffey and Dave Concepcion. But Geronimo was just as instrumental as any of those players.

With the 35th anniversary of the 1976 World Series victory clearly within our scope, maybe the Dominican deserves a little more love. He was my favorite player, no question. But the journey to Cincinnati began back in his native homeland back in 1967.

It has been said that Geronimo was playing softball when he was discovered at the age of 19. He had only picked up the game a couple of years prior to being found by the New York Yankees. After a couple of seasons of rather dubious play within the Yankees organization (he never posted a batting average over .200), the Houston Astros claimed Geronimo as a Rule 5 pick in December of 1968.

Geronimo was used mostly as a defensive replacement and a pinch runner during his days of donning an Astros uniform. Then the deal went down that could still be argued as the greatest trade the Reds ever made. The Reds sent Lee May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart to the Astros. The Reds received Joe Morgan, Denis Menke, Jack Billingham, Ed Armbrister and Geronimo in exchange. The rest is Reds history. Actually, it’s baseball history. With the exception of Menke, the other four (including Geronimo) proved to be players that will be forever linked to the days of the Big Red Machine.

But something funny almost happened when Geronimo was acquired. The Reds considered converting him into a pitcher. He had pitched a game while in the Yankees organization. The one trait Geronimo possessed was that arm. And what an arm he had. The bat was his nemesis.

That was cured by then hitting coach Ted Kluszewski who taught Geronimo a different swing in order to utilize his speed. That paid high dividends during that magical season of 1976. Geronimo set career highs in batting average (.307, the only time he topped .300 in his career), hits (149), triples (11), walks (56), on-base percentage (.382) and slugging (.414). Geronimo also would win his third of four consecutive Gold Gloves. He also received 3 points in the NL MVP voting for that season. Six Reds received MVP votes for 1976 with Morgan winning the award and Foster finishing second. Rose was fourth, Griffey was eighth, and Rawly Eastwick was 13th. Geronimo was 25th.

Cesar Geronimo was inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame in 2008, the last of the eligible position players from the days of the Big Red Machine to receive the honor. He went in with a class that included Barry Larkin, Joey Jay and August “Garry” Herrmann.

While many on those Big Red Machine teams were known more for their offense, Geronimo was known more for his defense. I already pointed out the four consecutive Gold Glove he won. He won those with long strides in patrolling the outfield. It was almost impossible to find the gap at Riverfront or any other ballpark. He is currently ranked as 9th on RF/9 (3.01) among all center fielders (since 1954).

Again, that arm. He posted double-digit assists (remember, he played center field) in four of the nine seasons in a Reds uniform. Of the remaining five years, he twice had seasons with nine outfield assists. You simply didn’t try to run on him.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here. Cesar Geronimo is the best defensive outfielder the Reds have ever had.