My dream as a boy always had been to play alongside Mickey Mantle. The Yankees as a team were my heroes. But at this minute, I would not want to trade uniforms.
- Cesar Geronimo following the Reds' four-game sweep of the Yankees in the 1976 World Series
When the Reds acquired Cesar Geronimo in the blockbuster deal that brought Reds Hall of Famer Joe Morgan to Cincinnati prior to the 1972 season, few would have predicted that Geronimo would become the centerfielder who would anchor the outfield of the Big Red Machine teams that dominated baseball in the 1970s. After all, Geronimo had been little more than a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch-runner in parts of three seasons with the Astros. The Dominican native had not even started playing baseball until he was 17, two years before the Yankees signed him to a contract after watching him play on his father's softball team. The Astros, who drafted him out of New York's minor league system, also recognized the raw talent the Yankees had seen but there was no talk of Geronimo becoming a star largely because it was believed that he would never hit enough to hold down a starting position at the Major League level.
Upon his arrival in Cincinnati, Geronimo fell under the tutelage of hitting coach Ted Kluszewski, a Reds Hall of Famer renowned for his ability to hit for power while also demonstrating tremendous discipline at the plate. The former Reds slugger instructed Geronimo to eliminate the upper cut from his swing and to start to hit down on the ball to better take advantage of his speed on ground balls. The advice paid immediate dividends as the formerly light-hitting Geronimo hit a solid .275 in limited action in 1972. Injuries contributed to a .210 mark in 1973 but rebounded to hit .281 in 1974. Geronimo's peak offensive season occurred two years later when he batted .307 for the World Champion Reds of 1976. The successful offensive campaign in 1976 was preceded by a seven hit, two home run performance in the Reds' seven game victory over the Boston Red Sox in the 1975 World Series.
Impressive though Geronimo's offensive development may have been, it was his defense that made him truly special. Reds Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson described his defense as "ungodly" and his contemporaries compared his arm to that of Roberto Clemente when Clemente was at his peak. Kluszewski suggested that Geronimo was "like a center in basketball - he intimidates you. Not only is his arm incredibly strong, it's also accurate. No one, I mean no one, runs on him." "Cannon." "Rifle." Any such superlative aptly described the left arm of Cesar Geronimo. So powerful was his arm that the Reds briefly considered converting him into a pitcher after they acquired him.
Geronimo's arm was matched only by his uncommon grace in patrolling centerfield. His long, smooth strides allowed him to close on fly balls that most outfielders simply could not get to in time. A track coach once measured Geronimo's stride at nine feet, nearly two more feet than that of the average runner. He excelled at making the spectacular look routine, at turning diving catches into easy outs. Geronimo's prowess in the outfield resulted in four consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1974 - 1977. Teammates and Reds Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Dave Concepcion and Joe Morgan are the only Reds players to win more Gold Gloves than Geronimo's four.
While acknowledged for his defense Geronimo's contributions to the Reds success in the 1970s was often lost amidst the glare of players like Bench, Morgan, Pete Rose and Tony Perez. Despite being an outstanding defender and solid hitter for baseball's best team, Geronimo was never named to an All-Star team. Even in 1976, when he hit a career best .307, stole 22 bases and posted a .414 on base percentage, he was not included on an All-Star team that featured seven of his teammates; the very teammates that were the first to attest to Geronimo's essential role in the team's success.
If Cesar Geronimo was under appreciated outside of Cincinnati, Reds players and Reds fans knew full well how special he was. It is difficult to convince this group that there was ever a better centerfielder than the man they called "The Chief".