A funny thing seemed to happen to guys when they came to the Cincinnati Reds from other teams in the early 1970s, became part of the Big Red Machine, and then moved on later.
Maybe the most famous example was George Foster, who experienced the phenomenon when he landed with the New York Mets in the early 1980s.
And Joe Morgan exhibited symptoms later in his career, when he returned to the Houston Astros, and then with the Giants, Phillies, and A’s.
Speaking of Morgan, everybody knows he came to the Reds from the Astros in a November 1971 trade that changed baseball history. It took a perennial contender and the 1970 National League pennant winner and revved it up a few hundred horsepower.
But it wasn’t Little Joe alone who made that trade such a winner for the Reds.
Nope, in addition to Morgan, the Reds landed Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, and Denis Menke in exchange for Tommy Helms, Lee May and Jimmy Stewart.
While Menke played only a couple years for the Reds, helping them reach the 1972 Fall Classic, all the rest played a role for those 1975 and 1976 championship teams.
Oh, and Houston included one more player in the largesse they bestowed upon the Reds in that long-ago deal: outfielder Cesar Geronimo.
After three seasons in the big leagues, Geronimo entered 1972 at 24 years old and having never played more than 94 games in any one campaign, with a healthy proportion of even that total (in 1971) coming as a pinch hitter or pinch runner.
Reds manager Sparky Anderson got Geronimo on the field in ‘72, though, as a defensive replacement in the outfield, and also with 60 starts of his own.
Geronimo’s games played grew from 120 to 139 in 1973, and he spent more time in centerfield than any other Reds player. By 1974, he was the team’s undisputed starter in center as Sparky’s lineup gelled, and Geronimo won his first of four straight Gold Gloves that season.
Cesar never put up gaudy batting numbers, but he did push his average into respectable range during his prime, even cracking .300 in 1976, and he was pretty adept on the bases — that same season, he collected 11 triples and swiped 22 bases while being thrown out just five times.
But as the Reds’ fortunes began to slip in the late 1970s, so too did Geronimo’s, and his batting average dipped back into the lower half of the .200s in 1978 and 1980, with a jump up to .255 in 1979 providing in-between hope.
Geronimo’s playing time marched downward alongside his batting average, and by 1980, he had lost his starting job to the speedy Dave Collins.
So, it was no big surprise when Cincinnati traded their soon-to-be 33-year-old former cog to the Kansas City Royals in January of 1981. Slightly more surprising, and certainly a bit hard to swallow, was that Cincy could only wrangle PH/2B German Barranca in the return package.
In K.C., Geronimo continued on his recent course, running and hitting in a pinch, drawing the occasional start.
Then, that fall, after an ugly strike had ripped the regular season in two, and after the Royals were swept out of the ALDS by the Oakland A’s — where Geronimo mustered one pinch-running assignment — the collecting world got its first cardboard proof of what had happened to Cesar after he left the Riverfront.
Find Cesar Geronimo cards on eBay (affiliate link)
Find Cesar Geronimo cards on Amazon (affiliate link)
After a clean-shave run through his baseball card career with the Reds, Geronimo showed up on card number 766 of the inaugural Topps Traded issue late in 1981 sporting a mustache that might more appropriately have been called a lip jungle, or maybe a nose (shag) carpet.
It was a magnificent addition that helped to offset Geronimo’s declining production, and a proof that, once freed from the hirsute restrictions the Reds placed on players in those days, dudes could do amazing things with their faces.
So, while Cesar Geronimo may never make baseball’s hall of fame, his late-career ‘stache has a shot.
Thanks to his key role on some great Reds teams, Geronimo’s memorabilia is still popular and fairly plentiful today. Take this bat for example:
That’s game-used lumber from Cesar’s time with the Reds.
Check out the full listing on eBay right here (affiliate link).