Orlando Manuel Cepeda Pennes
(Cha Cha or Baby Bull)
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 2", Weight 210 lb.
Orlando Cepeda hit .297 with 379 home runs during a 17-year career that earned him a spot in the Hall of Fame. He had nine seasons where he batted .300 or better, and eight seasons of 25 or more homers. During his career, he won the Rookie of the Year Award and Most Valuable Player Award and was a seven-time All-Star.
"He was the toughest hitter I ever faced." - Lew Burdette
The son of Puerto Rican baseball hero Pedro Cepeda (who was nicknamed "Perucho" and "the Bull"), Orlando was later known as "Peruchin" and "the Baby Bull". Signed by the New York Giants as a 17-year-old in 1955, he spent his entire signing bonus on his father's funeral when he passed away that April. He hit .393 with 21 home runs for the Kokomo Giants that summer, and the following year, 1956, he won the Northern League Triple Crown while playing for the St. Cloud Rox.
"He’s annoying every pitcher in the league. He is strong, can hit both ways and makes all the plays real good." - Willie Mays
1958 marked the Giants' first year in San Francisco, and Cepeda reached the majors that year. As the club's regular first baseman, he hit .312 with 25 home runs, led the National League with 38 doubles, and was named NL Rookie of the Year unanimously. In 1961, he had his best season in a Giants uniform, hitting .311 with a NL-leading 46 homers and 142 RBIs while finishing second to Frank Robinson in NL MVP voting. He played in the World Series with the Giants in 1962, when he hit .306 with 35 homers and 114 RBIs in the regular season, but went only 3 for 19 as the Giants lost to the New York Yankees in 7 games in the Series. In 1963, he opened the season with three consecutive three-hit games; the next National League player to do so would be Adrian Gonzalez over half a century later, in 2015.
"All right, El Birdos, who is the best team in the league? Is it the Dodgers? (Response: No!) Is it the Giants? (Response: No!) Who's the best team in the league? (Response: We are!)" - Cheer of the sort led by Orlando Cepeda of the Cardinals after every game, especially after beating the Giants
During his time in San Francisco, Cepeda had a problem as he had to share the field with another future Hall of Famer, Willie McCovey. Both players were natural first basemen, but one had to play the outfield - poorly - if both were to be in the line-up at the same time. To make things worse, the Giants were coming up with outfielders by the bushel-load at the time, making it even less appealing for their managers to play someone who was a defensive liability in the outfield. Cepeda struggled with injuries in 1965, hitting just .176 in 33 games while missing most of the year. By that time, McCovey had replaced him at first base, and early the next year, Cepeda was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Ray Sadecki. He returned to form, hitting .303 in 123 games for St. Louis that year. He had perhaps his finest season in 1967; in a year dominated by strong pitching, he led the St. Louis offense with a .325 average, 25 homers and 111 RBIs. He unanimously earned NL Most Valuable Player honors in that year, while taking the Cardinals to beat the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. However, after hitting just .248 in 1968, when the Cardinals returned to the World Series, he was dealt to the Atlanta Braves for Joe Torre.
Acquired in mid-season 1972 by the Oakland A's from the Braves, Cepeda's aching knees could go no more and he played only three games for the A's. After the season, he was released and signed by the Boston Red Sox. With the designated hitter rule coming into effect in 1973, he was freed from the necessity to play in the field and flourished that year as baseball's first full-time DH, hitting 20 home runs. After spending 1974 with the Kansas City Royals, he retired as a player.
About a year after his playing days ended, Cepeda was arrested at the San Juan airport with more than 150 pounds of marijuana in his car. He served 10 months in prison. He returned to baseball as a Chicago White Sox coach in 1980, and he later worked in the Giants organization. Away from the diamond, he continued to be recognized for charity work and humanitarian efforts. Cepeda lived and played in a time when the United States was at a crossroads of social change and racial intolerance. He was often the target of racial slurs, but the tough Cepeda always managed to remain proud and be a spokesperson and pioneer for Hispanic players everywhere.
Cepeda was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999, when the Veterans Committee elected him, becoming the second native Puerto Rican to join the Baseball Hall of Fame (after Roberto Clemente). During his induction, he said: "I'm proud to be a Puerto Rican and I will be a role model to the people of my country". Orlando Cepeda became the seventh Hispanic and the only living Puerto Rican in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. (Luis Aparicio, Rod Carew, fellow Puerto Rican Clemente, Martin Dihigo and Juan Marichal were the other Hispanic players in the Hall at the time). He and Albert Pujols are the only two players in National League history to win both the Rookie of the Year Award and the Most Valuable Player Awards unanimously. His number 30 was retired by the Giants in 1999 and a statue in his likeness was erected outside AT&T Park.
On February 19, 2018, Cepeda was hospitalized in the San Francisco area after suffering an apparent heart attack and was listed in critical condition. However, he managed to overcome the critical stage and within a few days, was showing major signs of improvement.
Cepeda is the uncle of professional boxer Ricardo Cepeda.
- NL Rookie of the Year Award (1958)
- 7-time NL All-Star (1959-1964 & 1967)
- NL MVP (1967))
- NL Doubles Leader (1958)
- NL Home Runs Leader (1961)
- 2-time NL RBI Leader (1961 & 1967)
- 20-Home Run Seasons: 12 (1958-1964, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1970 & 1973)
- 30-Home Run Seasons: 5 (1961-1964 & 1970)
- 40-Home Run Seasons: 1 (1961)
- 100 RBI Seasons: 5 (1959, 1961, 1962, 1967 & 1970)
- 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 3 (1961-1963)
- Won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1967
- Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1999
|Roberto Clemente||Orlando Cepeda||Bob Gibson|
|NL Rookie of the Year|
|Jack Sanford||Orlando Cepeda||Willie McCovey|
- Tied MLB record by hitting four doubles in a game, August 8, 1973
- Mark Armour: "Orlando Cepeda", in Chip Greene, ed.: Mustaches and Mayhem, Charlie O's Three-Time Champions: The Oakland Athletics 1972-74, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2015, pp. 155-160. ISBN 978-1-943816-07-1
- Orlando Cepeda (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, October 1970, pp. 27-29.