Orlando Cepeda dies at 86: Former Rookie of the Year, MVP for Giants, Cardinals among greatest Latin players

Hall of Fame slugger Orlando Cepeda has died at age 86, Major League Baseball announced on Friday: 

MLB mourns the passing of Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda at the age of 86. 

Known as “Cha-Cha” and “The Baby Bull,” Cepeda slugged 379 home runs, batted .297, and made 11 All-Star teams over 17 seasons. 

 He was unanimously selected as the NL Rookie of the Year in 1958 with the Giants. He was also a unanimous selection for the the NL MVP Award in 1967 when he helped lead the Cardinals to the World Series championship.

According to Sean Cunningham of Fox 40 in Sacramento, Cepeda’s wife Nydia released the following statement: 

Our beloved Orlando passed away peacefully at home this evening, listening to his favorite music and surrounded by his loved ones. We take comfort that he is at peace.”

Cepeda, a native of Puerto Rico, spent parts of 17 seasons in the majors with the New York/San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, Oakland A’s, Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals. Over that decorated career, he amassed 2,351 hits, 379 home runs, 417 doubles, 142 stolen bases, 1,365 RBI and 50.1 WAR. An 11-time All-Star and former MVP, Cepeda was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999. 

Most of his career value came across his nine seasons with the Giants, who first signed Cepeda in late 1953 with a $500 bonus. The Giants announced Cepeda’s passing during their game against the Dodgers on Friday and honored him with a moment of silence. The club also put out a video tribute: 

An integral part of the great Giants teams of that era, Cepeda forged a special affinity with San Francisco, whereas the great Willie Mays was in many ways associated with the franchise’s New York days. Of this dynamic, Cepeda said: 

“Right from the beginning, I fell in love with the city. There was everything that I liked. We played more day games then, so I usually had at least two nights a week free. On Thursdays, I would always go to the Copacabana to hear the Latin music. On Sundays, after games, I’d go to the Jazz Workshop for the jam sessions. At the Blackhawk, I’d hear Miles Davis, John Coltrane. … I roomed then with Felipe Alou and Rubén Gómez, but I was the only one who liked to go out at night. Felipe was very religious and quiet, and Ruben just liked to play golf, so he wasn’t a night person. But I was single, and I just loved that town.”

After being treated less than fairly by manager Alvin Dark and following the emergence of Willie McCovey, Cepeda in May of 1966 was traded to the Cardinals in exchange for left-hander Ray Sadecki. At 28, Cepeda began the second act of his career. Cepeda enjoyed a productive remainder of 1966, and then in ’67 he enjoyed perhaps the finest season of his career. En route to winning the National League MVP award in his first full season with St. Louis, Cepeda put up an OPS+ of 164 with 25 home runs and an NL-leading 111 RBI. 

More upheavals came in the following years, but Cepeda remained one of the game’s most productive hitters despite frequent changes of scenery. With the Red Sox in 1973, Cepeda enjoyed one of his last great runs, as he hit 20 home runs and became the inaugural winner of the Designated Hitter of the Year award (now known as the Edgar Martinez award). 

His playing career would end with the Royals in 1974, and 25 years after his final at-bat Cepeda would be enshrined in Cooperstown. 

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