Remembering Orlando Cepeda

Orlando “The Baby Bull” Cepeda, son of legendary Puerto Rican baseball star Pedro Perucho “The Bull” Cepeda, was only 20-years-old when he arrived in the Major Leagues in 1958.

In his first Major League game, this Latino legend homered to help beat Don Drysdale and the Dodgers. It was a picture perfect beginning to a spectacular career that includes nine seasons batting .300 or better and eight seasons of 25 or more home runs. As a rookie in 1958, Cepeda belted 25 homers, led the National League with 38 doubles, knocked in 96 runs and batted .312.

Those numbers won him the Rookie of the Year honors for the San Francisco Giants and the respect of his manager for the first two years, Bill Rigney, who once called Cepeda “The best young right-handed power hitter I’ve ever seen.”

Despite being a fan favorite in San Francisco which made him as popular as Willie Mays, Cepeda’s conflicts with management bounced him to the St. Louis Cardinals in mid-1966. Cepeda immediately became known as “Cha-Cha” in St. Louis because of his constant love & desire to bring a stereo to the clubhouse to share his beloved salsa music.

Respecting Cepeda’s taste turned him into the 1967 MVP by hitting .325 and driving in 111 RBIs. After leading the Cardinals to a pennant in 1967, they went on to become world champions by beating the Boston Red Sox in a seven-game series.
Cepeda appeared in three World Series, was a seven-time All-Star (1959-64, 67). Cepeda was also known as one of thegame’s best clutch hitters of his era. He homered against 187 different pitchers, with Milwaukee Braves teammates Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette his favorite targets (10 homers apiece), which prompted Burdette to call Cepeda “the toughest hitter I ever faced.”

After his retirement in 1975, Cepeda was recognized nationally for his humanitarian efforts as an ambassador for baseball. The Ponce, Puerto Rican native served as honorary spokesman for the Crohn’s and Colitis foundation of America, and participates in “Athletes against Aids.”

Cepeda has also helped to raise more than $10,000 for baseball equipment for the Roberto Clemente Latin American Athletic Club’s Baseball League in the mission district.

However, those good deeds were overshadowed when Cepeda was arrested at an airport on charges of trying to pick up 160 pounds of marijuana. He was sentenced to five years in prison but only did 10 months. This obviously worked against him when bids for the Hall of Fame came up.

In 1993, Cepeda was inducted into the Puerto Rico Sports Hall of Fame, but just missed being voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by a mere seven votes, the fifth narrowest margin a player ever missed being inducted in baseball history.

Of the 18 retired players who have hit more than 300 homers and bat over .295 for their career, only Cepeda was not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. However, in March of 1999, Cepeda, along with Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount and George Brett were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Cepeda joined the late Roberto Clemente as the only Puerto Ricans in the Hall of Fame.

During the press conference/celebration in San Francisco, Cepeda, was handed roses, a glass of champagne and a jersey with “Hall of Fame” written on it. The room was filled with balloons and a Latin song blasting through the speakers entitled “Viva Cepeda.”

“It’s hard to explain the feeling when they told me I was selected to the Hall of Fame,” Cepeda said. “I’ve been ready for this for 17 years. I’ve been through good things, bad things, but I was blessed to be born with the talent to play baseball.”
The Giants also retired his No. 30 uniform, making him only the ninth player in franchise history to be honored in such a fashion.

Cepeda’s acceptance speech was a brief, but his message – like his game – was loud and clear, “I’m proud to be a Puerto Rican and I will be a role model to the people of my country”.

Cepeda is only the sixth Hispanic and the only living Puerto Rican in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

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