Prior to his professional career, he was a collegiate baseball and basketball player at the University of Nebraska. Cerv signed with the New York Yankees in 1950 and was a little-used reserve outfielder on the Yankee teams of the early 1950s. According to sportswriter Robert Creamer, interviewed for the Ken Burns film Baseball, one afternoon, Yankees manager Casey Stengel approached Cerv in the Yankees" dugout, sat down nearby, and commented "There"s not many people that know this, but one of us has been traded to Kansas City."
Following the 1956 season, Cerv was sold to the Kansas City Athletics, where he became a regular.
His best season was 1958, when he hit.305, hit 38 homers, and had 104 RBIs, was elected to the American League All-Star team, beating out Ted Williams for the starting spot.
He also finished 4th in the Most Valuable Player voting that year. He did all of this while playing injured part of the season.
Cerv also participated in the Home Run Derby, where he defeated Frank Robinson. He followed up in 1959 with 20 homers and 87 RBIs.
Cerv still holds Kansas City"s major league record for home runs with 38.
In May 1960 Cerv was traded back to the Yankees for Andy Carey and his playing time was reduced somewhat. Following the 1960 season, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the expansion draft. In May 1961 he was traded back to the Yankees, where he was a substitute and pinch hitter.
He was also the housemate of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris during the home run race and was featured in the Billy Crystal"s movie 61*.
In June 1962 he was traded to the Houston Colt.45s, who released him in July. In his career Cerv had 105 home runs, including 12 pinch hit homers.
He also had a.276 batting average in his career with 624 hits in 2261 at bats. Following Cerv"s big league career, he coached college baseball at Southeast Missouri State College and John F. Kennedy College in Wahoo, Nebraska where he also coached the men"s basketball team