Orlando Manuel "Peruchin" Cepeda Pennes (Spanish pronunciation: [orˈlando seˈpeða]; born September 17, 1937) is a Puerto Rican former Major League Baseball first baseman and a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The 1958 National League Rookie of the Year, Cepeda was voted the National League Most Valuable Player in 1967, the year his team, the St. Louis Cardinals, won the World Series. Overall, he appeared in three World Series and was the first winner of the American League's Outstanding Designated Hitter Award in 1973. He batted .300 or better 9 times in the 14 seasons he appeared in over 100 games, much of it played in what is now called the "Second Deadball Era."
Cepeda was born to a poor family. His father, Pedro "Perucho" Cepeda, was also a baseball player in Puerto Rico, which influenced Cepeda's interest in the sport from a young age. His first contact with professional baseball was as a bat boy for the Santurce Crabbers of Puerto Rico. Pedro Zorilla, the team's owner, persuaded Cepeda's family to let him attend a New York Giants tryout. He played for several Minor League Baseball teams before attracting the interest of the Giants, who had just moved to San Francisco.
During a career that lasted sixteen years, he played with the San Francisco Giants (1958–66), St. Louis Cardinals (1966–68), Atlanta Braves (1969–72), Oakland Athletics (1972), Boston Red Sox (1973), and Kansas City Royals (1974). Cepeda was selected to play in seven Major League Baseball All-Star Games during his career, becoming the first player from Puerto Rico to start one. In 1978, Cepeda was sentenced to five years in prison on drug possession charges, of which he served ten months in prison and the rest on probation. In 1987, Cepeda was contracted by the San Francisco Giants to work as a scout and "goodwill ambassador." In 1999, Cepeda was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.
Orlando Cepeda was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, to Pedro Aníbal Cepeda (1905/6-1955) and Carmen Pennes. The family was poor, and lived in wood houses without a telephone or refrigerator. His father was a professional baseball player in Puerto Rico, where he was known as "Perucho" and "The Bull", and was widely considered one of the best players of his generation. Orlando was thus known as "The Baby Bull." Cepeda saw his father play baseball for the first time in 1946, and was instantly interested in the game.
Because he was black and the bulk of his career was played before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color bar, Perucho Cepeda could not play in the major leagues. Several players from the Negro leagues visited their house, which influenced his view of the sport. He became a fan of Minnie Miñoso, following his career in the Cuban League, Negro leagues, Major League Baseball, and the Caribbean.
When he was ten years old, Cepeda began to sell newspapers in order to participate in a baseball tournament organized for the paper boys. His first tryout came three years later. He practiced with the team for three months but did not make the roster. Cepeda then began playing basketball, but he tore a knee cartilage and underwent surgery. The injury kept him inactive for nearly a year, and the doctor recommended that he avoid practicing basketball. He began practicing again, noticing that his physical strength had significantly improved in two years.
One day, an amateur baseball player saw him play and recruited him to play with his team. The organization won Puerto Rico's amateur championship and went on to play against an All-Star team from the Dominican Republic. Pedro Zorilla, then owner of the Santurce Crabbers, attended this game to scout another player, but after seeing Cepeda play, he became interested in him. In 1953, Zorilla brought him onto the team to work as a bat boy. After retiring, Pedro Cepeda worked for the government, checking the water of rivers in the municipality. He contracted malaria, which eventually precipitated his death at age 49. This illness worsened the family's living conditions. They moved from Guayama to Juncos, where their financial condition deteriorated. They moved again, this time to San Juan, where his mother worked odd jobs to support the family. After her father's death, there was not sufficient income in the household to pay for college.
Minor League Baseball
In 1955, Zorilla persuaded Cepeda's family to purchase an airplane ticket so that he could participate in a New York Giants tryout. After passing the tryout, he was assigned by the Giants to Sandersville, a Class D team. Cepeda was subsequently transferred to a team in Salem, Virginia. He had trouble adapting because he did not speak English. He also encountered discrimination due to the racial segregation under the Jim Crow laws. Shortly after this move, Zorilla called to inform him that his father was in critical condition. Pedro Cepeda died a few days later. Orlando paid the burial expenses and returned to Salem. Cepeda was depressed, which affected his performance. He wanted to quit and return to Puerto Rico, but Zorilla convinced him to play for the Kokomo Giants, a team in the Mississippi–Ohio Valley League. Walt Dixon, the team's manager, assigned him to the third baseman position. Cepeda batted in the "cleanup spot", finishing with a .393 average, hitting 21 home runs and 91 runs batted in. Jim Tobin, who owned his contract noticed his potential and sold his player's rights back to the New York Giants. After a visit to Puerto Rico, Cepeda returned to New York, before being sent to play with St. Cloud in Class C. The team reassigned him to play first base. Cepeda adapted to the change quickly. That year, he won the Northern League Triple Crown, finishing with an average of .355 with 112 RBIs and 26 home runs. Jack Schwarz promoted him to Class B, a decision that he protested, noting that players with worse performance were being sent to Double A. Following a solid season in Class B, Cepeda played for the Crabbers in the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League (LBPPR) during the winter, concluding with a batting average of .310, with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs. He then signed a Class A contract with Springfield, accepting it on condition that he be allowed to play with the Minneapolis Millers in spring training. Cepeda had a slow start, but his performance improved as the season advanced, and the team retained him in their roster. After completing the 1957 season with the Millers, he returned to Puerto Rico and played in the LBPPR. While he was playing with Santurce, Bill Rigney, Horace Stoneham and Tom Sheehan scouted him on behalf of the Giants, who had just moved from New York to San Francisco. He was invited to the team's spring training along with other prospects, including Felipe Alou and Willie Kirkland.
San Francisco Giants (1958–1966)
Cepeda was called up by the San Francisco Giants in 1958. His 13 home runs for the season through May 31, 1958, are tied with those of Joc Pederson (2015) for the second-most by a National League rookie through the end of May in baseball history, behind Albert Pujols (16, in 2001).
He signed his first major league contract ten minutes before debuting in the league, earning $7,000 for the season. In San Francisco, the team received significant media attention. Due to his performance, the team raised his salary to $9,500 in June. During this season, Cepeda lived with Rubén Gómez, but stopped doing so after some tension developed between them.
His average remained steady throughout the season, never falling below .305, which was his average in September. The Giants held the National League's lead for a month, but their record in August and September was below .500, and they lost the pennant race.
In his first season, Cepeda batted .312 with 25 home runs and 96 RBI, led the National League in doubles (38), and was named Rookie of the Year. Cepeda and Willie Mays were the only National League players to finish the season ranked among the leaders in hits, home runs, runs batted in, batting average, runs scored and stolen bases. He was unanimously selected the "Rookie of the Year", becoming the second player after Frank Robinson to receive a unanimous vote. He was also selected the "Most Valuable Giant" in a poll conducted by the San Francisco Examiner. On September 28, 1958, the publication presented him a plaque for this recognition.
After the season concluded, Cepeda used his salary to buy a new house for his mother. That year he won the LBPPR batting title with an average of .362, while Santurce won the league's championship.
The Giants offered him a $12,000 contract, which he refused, asking for $20,000. After negotiations, the parties settled on $17,000.
In 1959, Cepeda reported to spring training with more confidence than the year before. He opened the season hitting in nine straight games, with 15 hits in his first 35 at-bats. After experiencing a brief slump during the latter half of May, Cepeda recovered, hitting 12 home runs by June 4, 1959. He was selected as a starter in both All-Star games during this season. Cepeda was briefly moved to third base to open a spot for Willie McCovey in the starting lineup, but was moved to the outfield after committing errors in the position. He hit six home runs between August and September. The Giants remained in the race for the National League's pennant during the latter part of the season, but were eliminated from competition after losing a series against the Dodgers, eventually finishing third. Cepeda led the team in batting average (.317) and RBIs (105).
Cepeda subsequently moved from Daly City to Sunset District, seeking a house within the city. In 1960, the Giants moved him back to first base after McCovey was sent to the minor leagues. Cepeda finished with an average of .297, with 24 home runs and 96 RBI. He moved twice this year, first to 19th and Pacheco and then to 48th and Pacheco, where he and McCovey bought a building next to the ocean. On December 3, 1960, Cepeda married Annie Pino in a ceremony that took place in a small church of San Juan. This was followed by a large reception at the San Juan Hilton hotel. After the ceremonies, the couple moved to the building at 48th and Pacheco.
In 1961, Cepeda had what he considers the best statistics of his career. He led the league in RBIs (142), home runs (46) and home run average (7.9). He was once again selected to play in the All-Star Game starting lineup. The Giants led the National League in runs scored, while the pitching staff had a collective earned run average of 3.77. The team finished in third place in the National League. Cepeda finished second in the Most Valuable Player voting, after Frank Robinson. After the season, Cepeda who at the moment was earning $30,000, asked for a $20,000 raise based on his performance. The general manager believed that he was making too much money for a fourth-year player, and the negotiations continued until a final salary of $46,000 was settled on. The 1962 Giants were an improved team. They constantly rivaled the Dodgers for the league lead. Several players from the team, including Cepeda, participated in the All-Star Games. Finishing tied with the Dodgers, the Giants played against them in a playoff series to determine the National League's champion. They won the best of three series 2–1. The team advanced to the World Series to face the New York Yankees. New York won in a seven-game series. Cepeda batted .306, with 35 home runs and 114 RBIs. In 1961 and 1962, Cepeda had strong years; however, he had serious problems with the team's manager Alvin Dark, to the point of almost skipping some games. Among the things that Dark did after being named manager was to order the Latin American players to stop speaking Spanish in the clubhouse. Cepeda immediately confronted him; after this Dark avoided summoning the Hispanic players to any team meeting.
During the winter, Cepeda returned to the LBPPR, where he suffered a knee injury while training. In 1963, he played the entire MLB season with the injury, not informing the Giants out of concern for his spot in the roster. He was in constant pain, but was in the race for a batting title along with Roberto Clemente, Dick Groat and Tommy Davis, eventually finishing fifth. His batting average was .316, with 34 home runs and 97 RBIs. In 1964, San Francisco remained in the pennant race until the last week, when the St Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Mets to secure it. Cepeda led the team in batting average with .304 and a slugging percentage of .539. Cepeda attended the 1965 spring training, having limited participation. One of his friends, who was from Mexico brought in a jar with alcohol and cannabis to reduce the pain, noting that it was an "old Mexican remedy". Noticing this a club house employee offered to bring him a cannabis "joint", which he accepted. After this event, he consumed the drug regularly in order to "relax". After experiencing swelling in the knee during the first games of the season, a group of doctors at recommended him to stop playing, however, Cepeda refused to do so since baseball was his main source of income. He received treatment from Gene Sollovief, a Russian doctor who implemented a weight and exercise regime. He returned to action, but only had 34 at-bats with an average of .176 and only three home runs. He returned to Puerto Rico undergoing further physical therapy. In the off-season Cepeda also brought a house in Diamond Heights while his wife was pregnant with his first son, Orlando, Jr. After recovering from the injury he attended 1966 spring training, however he wasn't placed in the team's starting lineup. In the middle of a series Cepeda was informed that he had been traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ray Sadecki.
St Louis Cardinals (1966–1968)
The Giants were playing a series against the Cardinals in St. Louis, so Cepeda joined the team in the city. Bob Howsam, the team's general manager, was interested in him because the team had offensive problems. After the trade, the team granted him a new contract for $53,000. With the help of Harry Caray, the Cardinals' announcer, Cepeda moved to a house in Olivette, Missouri. The team finished in sixth place, with a record of 83–79. He finished his first season with the Cardinals playing 123 games, with an average of .303 and was named the National League Comeback Player of the Year.
In 1967, the Cardinals entered the season with analysts giving them odds of 12–1 of winning the pennant. Cepeda began the season strongly, at one point driving in seven runs in a single game. The team promoted offensive performance by fining any player who left teammates on base a dollar; the money was used to pay for the postseason party. The Cardinals contended in the early league standings with the Chicago Cubs, but the team took control of the National League pennant race as the season progressed. Cepeda's offense remained stable, finishing June as the league's leader in doubles. He played in his seventh All-Star Game, which the National League won 2–1. Cepeda was named NL Player of the Month for the only time in his career in August, when he batted .352, with 5 HR and 25 RBI. The Cardinals won the pennant and defeated the Boston Red Sox in seven games to win the World Series. He concluded the season hitting .325, 21 game-winning hits and with a league-leading 111 RBIs. Cepeda was named the National League Most Valuable Player. He was the second National League player, after Carl Hubbell to win the award unanimously. He and future Cardinal Albert Pujols are also the only players in baseball history to win Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards unanimously. He was the first Latin player to win the home run and RBI titles.
In 1968, the Cardinals were considered the strongest team in the majors. The Cardinals won the pennant for a second straight year, this time with a nine-game lead. The Detroit Tigers won the American League pennant by twelve games. Cepeda, who had a low average in the 1967 World Series, hit a home run that gave the Cardinals a two games to one lead. The Tigers, however, won three of the next four games, to win their first World Series since 1945. This season was called the "Year of the Pitcher", because of the overwhelming dominance pitching had over offense in 1968. Cepeda had his the worst statistical year of his career as a regular player, finishing with an average of .248 with 16 home runs and 73 RBIs, scoring career-lows in all three statistics. In March 1969, the Cardinals traded him to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Joe Torre.
The trade took Cepeda by surprise. After learning that his new team was the Braves, he considered retirement, but decided against after discussing it with his wife. He moved to the city with uncertainty, wondering if the effect of the Jim Crow laws was still present, but his concerns disppeared once they settled. Cepeda attended the 1969 spring training on West Palm Beach, being welcomed to the team by Hank Aaron. This marked the first time that the league's postseason had best-of-five-game playoffs. The Braves won the National League West with a record of 93–69, before losing to the New York Mets in the playoffs. Cepeda had a season average of .257 with 22 home runs and 88 RBIs.
In 1970, Rico Carty of the Braves led the league in average, while Cepeda and Aaron drove in more than a hundred runs. However, the team's pitching was ineffective and the team finished in fourth place in the division. Cepeda finished with an average of .305, 34 home runs and 111 RBIs. In 1971, Cepeda began the season with a solid offensive, hitting 10 home runs before May was over. However, he re-injured one of his knees in his house. The Braves' physician administered a shot, but that proved ineffective. Cepeda was attended to by Dr. Funk, the Atlanta Falcons' orthopedicist. After running tests and examining X-rays, he determined that the injury was serious. Because of this, Cepeda began playing part-time. His batting average declined, and he hit only five more home runs on the season. In September he traveled to New York where he underwent surgery, returning to Puerto Rico to recover during the winter. In 1972, Cepeda began playing while still feeling pain. On May 16, 1972, he hit two home runs against Houston. During this time Paul Richards had been replaced by Eddie Robinson as the team general manager. Robinson didn't assign treatment for Cepeda's leg, eventually deciding to trade him.
In July, Cepeda was traded to the Oakland Athletics for Denny McLain. After playing for a week, he was hospitalized and underwent a second surgery on his injured knee. Cepeda remained in Oakland three months before returning to Puerto Rico. Upon arriving he received a telegram from Charlie Finley, the Athletics' owner, telling him that if he didn't respond within three days he would be released from his contract. Cepeda decided not to call, intending to retire from baseball. In 1973, the American League established the designated hitter role, hoping to improve attendance. The Boston Red Sox contacted him, telling him that his role with the team only required batting. Cepeda became the first player to sign a contract to exclusively play as a designated hitter. His first hit with the team was a walk-off home run to beat the New York Yankees. Cepeda had an average of .289 with 20 home runs and 86 RBIs in 550 at bats. He was also named Designated Hitter of the Year. Cepeda's twentieth home run established a major league record, making him the first player to hit twenty or more home runs with four different teams. He went to Puerto Rico and prepared to play in the 1974 season, but the team decided to release him and Luis Aparicio during spring training. After briefly playing in Mexico, he was offered a contract by the Kansas City Royals. In his last season, Cepeda had 107 at bats, batting .215 with one home run.
Cepeda was the second player from Puerto Rico to win a triple crown in Minor League Baseball, doing so in 1956, with a batting average of .355, 26 home runs, and 112 RBIs. He was selected as an All-Star seven times, appearing in eleven games (1959–64, 1967). He was the first Puerto Rican to start in an All Star Game and to be selected in two positions, serving as a first baseman and left fielder. His lifetime numbers in the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League are .325 batting average (fifth place), 89 home runs, 340 runs batted in and .544 slugging (second place and only Puerto Rican with .500+). He batted .300+ eleven times, the most in league history.
Divorce, second marriage, conviction and conversion
Cepeda tried a comeback in the LBPPR, but noticed that his body couldn't perform well, opting to retire instead. After retiring, he began experiencing several personal problems. He and Pino divorced in 1973, Cepeda had other relationships outside of wedlock, from which one son, Carl Cepeda, was born. After the couple separated, he met Nydia Fernandez, who was from Carolina, Puerto Rico. The couple married in 1975, fathering two children, Malcom and Ali.
Later that year, Cepeda traveled to Colombia to direct a baseball clinic, and once there, he met a group of drug dealers who convinced him to put bags containing five pounds of cannabis in two boxes containing hand-made clothing. Cepeda had continued to use cannabis since 1965. He returned to Puerto Rico, waiting ten days before contacting the airport to see if the boxes had arrived. When Cepeda arrived to collect his cargo, he was told that they could not be released, since the shipping cost had not been covered. At that point, two police officers (who were aware of the packages' contents) instructed one of the air freight employees to give Cepeda the boxes with or without payment. An airport employee delivered the boxes to Cepeda's car, and once Cepeda returned to his vehicle, he was arrested and charged with drug possession.
While on trial for that charge, Cepeda was arrested a second time, after a man alleged that Cepeda had pointed a gun at him. A third case was brought by Pino, seeking an increase in alimony and child support payments. In 1978, after three days at trial, Cepeda was declared guilty of the drug possession charges and sentenced to five years of imprisonment. Cepeda served ten months in jail time and the balance of his sentence on probation. Following his release, a district attorney in Puerto Rico told the prison's warden that if Cepeda returned the mafia would likely attempt to kill him. leading to Cepeda's assignment to a "halfway house" in Philadelphia.
After completing that program, Cepeda coached a LBPPR team in Bayamón, Puerto Rico and was later hired as a scout by the Chicago White Sox. In 1981, the team assigned him to work as a roving instructor with one of their Minor League Baseball club in Lynn, Massachusetts. Roland Hemond released him later that year, and he briefly worked as the Crabbers' coach.
Cepeda began practicing Nichiren Buddhism as a member of the Buddhist association Soka Gakkai International in 1983. One year later, he moved to Los Angeles, renting an apartment in Burbank. During this timeframe, his relationship with Fernandez deteriorated. She eventually left the house and returned to Puerto Rico with Malcom and Ali and filed a divorce suit. A friend introduced Cepeda to Mirian Ortiz, whom he eventually married.
Return to the Giants and community work
In 1987, Max Shapiro asked him to substitute for McCovey in a "fantasy baseball camp" in San Francisco, and although reluctuant at first, he accepted. Here he met and befriended publisher Laurence Hyman, who introduced Cepeda to San Francisco Giants' staff members and encouraged him to write to Al Rosen. After initially receiving no response, eventually Patrick J. Gallagher called to tell Cepeda that Rosen wanted to hire him as a scout. Cepeda worked in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and other Latin American countries during his first year, after which the Giants placed him on full-time payroll. Cepeda later worked as a "goodwill ambassador" for the Giants, attending activities in schools, hospitals and community centers, and he represented the Giants in programs aimed at Latin American communities. He also joined Sōka Gakkai International and participated in activities for the Puerto Rican communities in New York.
Cepeda threw the honorary first pitch for the third game of the 1989 National League Championship Series, and also for a regular season game between the Giants and Dodgers on September 17, 1997, his 60th birthday. Cepeda has a place at the new Giants ballpark that opened in 2000. At AT&T Park he has his own concessions stand called "Orlando's". In their offering is the "Caribbean Cha Cha Bowl". In 2006, the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) approved a chapter for Puerto Rico, the first in Latin America, and named the chapter in honor of Cepeda.
Induction to Hall of Fame
|Orlando Cepeda's number 30 was retired by the San Francisco Giants in 1999.|
By the early 1990s, when his time of eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame was beginning to run out, many Puerto Ricans, celebrities and ordinary citizens alike, began to campaign for his induction. Some international celebrities and former teammates also joined in the campaign. In 1994, his last year of eligibility by voting, he came within seven votes of being elected. In 1999, he was elected by the Hall's Veterans Committee, joining Roberto Clemente as the only other Puerto Rican in Cooperstown.
Cepeda belongs to fourteen halls of fame, the most by any Puerto Rican athlete: Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame (1990), Puerto Rico Baseball Hall of Fame (1991), Laredo Latin American International Sports Hall of Fame (1995), Santurce Hall of Fame (1997), Puerto Rico Sports Hall of Fame (1993), Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown (1999), Missouri Hall of Fame (2000), Guayama Hall of Fame (2000), Ponce Hall of Fame (2001), Cataño Hall of Fame (2002), Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum (2002), African American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame (2007).
San Francisco Giants Hall of Fame (2008) and Latinoamerican Baseball Hall of Fame (2010).
Humanitarian and additional recognitions
Cepeda has been recognized nationally for his humanitarian efforts as an ambassador for baseball. He served as an honorary spokesman for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.
In 2001, he won the Ernie Banks Positive Image Lifetime Achievement Award. The citation for the award reads, in part, "The legacy he is leaving is an impressive one indeed. His commitment to community service includes credentials for a Humanitarian Hall of Fame. He is now recognized nationally for his humanitarian efforts as an ambassador for baseball and the San Francisco Giants." It goes on to list many of his national and community contributions, including his regular visits to inner-city schools throughout the country in conjunction with HOPE: Helping Other People Excel. "Each December, Orlando tours as part of the Giants Christmas Caravan visiting hospitals, schools and youth groups including the UC San Francisco Medical Center pediatric cancer ward. He is a participant in Athletes Against AIDS. He is also a public speaker for the Omega Boys and Girls Club, counseling at-risk children in the San Francisco community. He is revered in the local community and a local band has a song that celebrates him.
The Giants retired Orlando Cepeda's number 30. It hangs on the facing of the upper deck in the left field corner of AT&T Park. On September 6, 2008, the Giants unveiled a statue of Cepeda next to the installation. He is the fourth Giant to be honored with a statue; the other players are Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal.
In a 1976 Esquire magazine article, sportswriter Harry Stein published an "All Time All-Star Argument Starter", consisting of five ethnic baseball teams. Cepeda, a Puerto Rican, was the first baseman on Stein's Latin team. In September 2008, the San Francisco Giants added a life size bronze statue on the 4th corner of the stadium to honor Orlando Cepeda as one of the greatest Giants of all time, joining other Hall of Fame players on the other three corners of the stadium. These include Willie Mays, Juan Marichal and Willie McCovey. Orlando Cepeda continues to be a part of the Giants front office staff and is often involved with the team's spring training activities.
He is also recognized at Ponce's Parque de los Ponceños Ilustres in the area of sports.