Remembering Cesar Geronimo
The Cincinnati Reds inducted four new members into the ballclub’s Hall of Fame a couple years ago, and the occasion jogged some fond memories of one of them – outfielder Cesar Geronimo -- from my years as publicity director, promotions director and eventually Vice President Marketing for the ballclub.
His name first surfaced in my consciousness when the Reds and Houston were talking trade in the fall of 1971. As Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings convened in Scottsdale/Phoenix in late November, the pieces began to fall into place for what would become a blockbuster trade that reshaped the ballclub. As publicity director, it was my role to announce the trade. No significant trades had been made up to that point, and sportswriters were starved for news. About two hours before the trade was to be announced, we called a bellman to General Manager Bob Howsam’s suite, where the Reds staff was sequestered, and gave him a note to post on the press room bulletin board. The note read: “A major trade will be announced at 2 PM in the press room.” When we arrived at the press room, it was jammed. I stepped to the microphone and somewhat nervously announced that the Cincinnati Reds had traded Lee May, Tommy Helms and Jimmy Stewart to Houston for Joe Morgan, Denis Menke, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo and Ed Armbrister. Everyone acknowledged it was a very big trade. Both GMs said what GMs always say after a trade … it’s a trade that’s good for both teams. The media covering the Reds were not convinced that giving up May, Helms and Stewart, all popular players, was a good thing. One sportswriter tried to draw a comment from me when he asked if I had my Cesars mixed up and really meant to say Cesar Cedeno (a Houston all-star outfielder) instead of the unknown Cesar Geronimo. We took heat from fans and the media all winter and into the next season. Then, the Reds started winning, and the rest is history.
The 1972 Reds won the National League West and played Pittsburgh in the league playoff. The series went to a fifth game at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium on a rainy October afternoon. With the Reds trailing by one run heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, Johnny Bench led off with a game-tying home run to right field. It was one of the most memorable home runs in Reds history. Replays of Al Michaels’ radio description memorialized it … “and the pitch to Bench … change hit in the air to deep right field … back goes Clemente … at the fence … it’s gone … Johnny Bench, who hits almost every home run to left field, hit this one to right and the score is tied.” A few minutes later pinch runner George Foster scored on a wild pitch and the Reds were National League champions. Forgotten in hoopla was something that happened in the fifth inning – a solo home run by Cesar Geronimo. He had hit only four home runs that year, and he would hit only 51 in his 15-year career. But the home run he hit that day against the Pirates set the stage for Bench’s heroics. Without it, Bench’s homer would merely have pulled the Reds within one run.
Geronimo’s name surfaced again in what is one of my favorite Reds memories. The Reds took the first two games of the 1976 World Series at home from the New York Yankees, and the scene for Game 3 shifted to storied Yankee Stadium. It was my first time inside the House That Ruth Built, and even though George Steinbrenner had rebuilt it a couple years earlier it still reeked of baseball history. I was in our dugout about 15 minutes before the game was to start. My job was to help with the player introductions, which meant cueing each player when his name was called. (Amazing … men who can throw a baseball 95 miles per hour and hit balls being thrown 95 miles an hour can’t be relied upon to trot from the dugout to the third base foul line when their names are called.) As I leaned against the dugout railing and savored the moment, Sparky Anderson, the Reds manager, was doing the same and enjoying the quiet in this lull before the storm. Sparky broke the silence and said, “Look at that,” and pointed to the outfield wall scoreboard in left field. Auxiliary scoreboards on the outfield walls listed the each team’s batting order ... number, position and batting average. The designated hitter rule was in place for the game, which meant that no pitcher was listed. The manager of the Big Red Machine, a team that won 102 games during the regular season and swept the Phillies in the playoffs, found an interesting way to attest to his team’s greatness. Said Sparky, who had just made out his lineup card, “You know, it says something about your ballclub when your number nine hitter (Geronimo) is batting .307.” It sure did.