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At 35, Cedeno Is Newest Dodger : Veteran Signed to Help Fill Gap Left by Guerrero’s Injury

Times Staff Writer

Cesar Cedeno was cut by the Toronto Blue Jays last Thursday, the same day Pedro Guerrero blew out his left knee in Florida.

“I decided the day after I was cut that my baseball career was over,” said the 35-year-old Cedeno, who won a World Series game for St. Louis in 1985, didn’t hear from the Cardinals again and wound up signing a minor league contract with the Blue Jays as a free agent.

“That’s what I thought until I got a call from Mr. Campanis.”

That call from Dodger Vice President Al Campanis never would have come had Guerrero not been hurt. If Guerrero could not be in a Dodger uniform, Campanis decided, then Cedeno, Guerrero’s countryman from the Dominican Republic, would.

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So, Thursday, after scoring just three runs in their first three games, the Dodgers announced that Cedeno had signed a one-year contract with the team. Terms were not announced, but Cedeno came cheap--around $200,000.

“It only becomes a bargain,” Campanis said, “if he does well.”

To make room for Cedeno, the Dodgers optioned rookie Reggie Williams to Albuquerque.

Williams, expected to platoon with Ken Landreaux in center field, had started fast in spring training--10 hits in his first 20 at-bats--but tailed off to a .246 average. In his only start of the regular season, Williams had a bloop single in three trips.

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“We felt Williams needed more time,” Campanis said. “And we have a desire to get off well, since we’re playing San Diego, Cincinnati and Atlanta in the first month. It was time to make a move.”

In Cedeno, the Dodgers acquired a player who:

--Went from the Reds to the Cardinals last August, took over for the injured Jack Clark and batted .434 down the stretch, with 6 home runs and 19 runs batted in, to help the Cardinals hold off the New York Mets in the NL East.

--Doubled in the winning run in the Cardinals’ 3-1 win over Kansas City in Game 1 of the World Series.

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--Has been a four-time All-Star, a five-time Gold Glove winner and a career .286 hitter in 16 seasons.

--Is the only player in big league history to hit 20 or more homers and steal 50 or more bases in the same season for three consecutive years.

--Has batted over .300 against left-handers in five of the last six seasons.

--Hit .349 with runners in scoring position last season.

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In short, the Dodgers acquired a hitter who can play both the outfield and first base.

“C.C. was easy to get,” said Enos Cabell, who played six seasons with Cedeno in Houston. “We didn’t have to come up with a slew of money or a draft choice.

“You can shake gloves off trees, and a whole bunch of gloves will come down. But bats don’t hang up there.”

In Cedeno, the Dodgers also are getting a man who:

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--Was convicted of manslaughter in the 1973 shooting death of a 19-year-old girl in the Dominican Republic, and fined $100;

--Suspended and fined $5,000 by the Astros in 1981 for going into the stands in Atlanta after a fan who Cedeno said called him a “killer.” The suspension was later lifted.

--Suspended and fined by the Reds in 1983 for tearing up his airline boarding pass on a team flight because the Reds did not supply him with a first-class seat. The suspension was later rescinded; the fine was not.

--Spent seven weeks after the 1983 season in a stress-management course at the California Institute for Behavioral Medicine in Beverly Hills.

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Campanis said he did not have any reservations about signing Cedeno.

“Everybody has known about it (Cedeno’s background) a long time,” Campanis said. “He was acquitted (in the shooting death) as being in an accident.

“When the Cardinals got him last year, he helped them win a pennant.”

Naturally, the Dodgers hope Cedeno does the same for them.

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“It was obvious, especially against left-handed pitchers, that there was a problem with losing Pete,” Mike Marshall said. “That’s not taking anything away from Reggie, but I was the only guy in the lineup that could hit home runs against left-handers . . . maybe Bill Madlock.

“When you pride yourself as a team that wins with power and pitching, we were definitely struggling against lefties.”

Cedeno said he was elated to be with the Dodgers. His agent, Tom Reich, had contacted the Dodgers during the winter, but the team wasn’t interested. When Reich called again, after Guerrero injured his knee in a moment of indecision while attempting a slide, Campanis was ready to talk business. The deal was completed late Wednesday night after Cedeno flew here from his home in Houston.

Cedeno had harsh words for the Blue Jays, saying they released him last Thursday at 6:45 a.m., 15 minutes before they broke camp.

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“The biggest disappointment of my career,” said Cedeno, who hit .188 with one home run and 3 RBIs this spring before being released. “The Blue Jays showed me no class whatsoever.”

The next day, Cedeno said, he was in the Reds’ camp at Tampa, Fla.

“Dave Parker was talking about Pedro getting hurt,” Cedeno said. “He said, ‘Gee, you’re probably in a position to hurt us.’ He obviously knew something I didn’t.

“This was a strange way of getting here. I feel sorry for Pete, but he’ll bounce back and be as strong as he was. I’m happy for the opportunity.”

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