Orlando Manuel Cepeda Pennes was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico on September 17,1937. Orlando, considered by many as one of the greatest baseball players of his time, was known as the Baby Bull, Cha-Cha, or Peruchin. Orlando batted right and threw right and played First Base. Orlando grew up watching his dad Pedro “Perucho” Cepeda a power hitting shortstop considered by many as the Puerto Rican Babe Ruth.
Orlando debuted as a Giant, thus becoming the National League Rookie of the year in 1958 for the Giants inaugural season in San Francisco. Orlando was one of the few early Hispanic stars to emerge for MLB when MLB finally arrived on the West Coast. In 1958 the Giants began playing at the San Francisco’s Seals Stadium of the Pacific Coast League. Seals Stadium was a minor league baseball stadium located at Bryant and & 16th street in the Mission District in San Francisco. The stadium was the smallest in baseball with a capacity of 22,900 as the Giants added an extra 2,600 seats in left field. Late in 1959 the stadium was demolished. Today the former site is a mall that has a distinguished plaque in dedication of Seals Stadium where the Giants played their very first game which became their home temporarily prior to their relocation two years later to Candlestick Park at Candlestick Point in the Bayview section of San Francisco.
In his first baseball game Orlando hit the first home run on the West Coast against their rival the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 15, 1958. The Giants won the game 8-0. Fellow Puerto Rican, Ruben Gomez, pitched and won the first MLB game in San Francisco. The Giants, on that faithful day in San Francisco, had the following Hispanic players on their roster: Felipe Alou – Outfielder, Orlando Cepeda – First Baseman, Ruben Gomez – Pitcher, and Valmy Thomas – Catcher.
In 1959 Cepeda became the first Puerto Rican player to start an All-Star Game, as he also played in 11 of them. In 1961 he was runner-up in voting for the National League (MVP) after leading the league with 46 home runs and 142 RBI, which remains the club record for right-handed hitters. Orlando became the National League home run champion in 1961. In between 1961 and 1967 Orlando also became a 2-time National League RBI Leader. The Giants having just brought up Willie McCovey felt that they could not have both play the outfield so they decided to trade Cepeda to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ray Sadecki. Orlando was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and became the Most Valuable Player in 1966 leading the Cardinals to the World Series Championship.
He remained with the St. Louis Cardinals until 1968 after having played three and a half seasons. Orlando was then traded to the Atlanta Braves for future MVP Joe Torre on March 17, 1969. Cepeda had thought of retirement after the trade but after consulting with his wife, all worked out for Orlando in Atlanta. Cepeda at one point felt that because of the Jim Crow laws he could be affected playing for Atlanta. Cepeda played for the Atlanta Braves from 1969 – 1972, Oakland Athletics in 1972, and Boston Red Sox in 1973 as their first designated hitter. Orlando also played for the Kansas City Royals in 1974 and retired after the season.
In 1975 after retirement Orlando Cepeda was arrested when 170 pounds of marijuana was discovered in his luggage on his return trip from Colombia as he had been conducting baseball clinics there. Orlando as a result served 10 months of a 5 year sentence at a federal prison in Florida. Orlando was released early because of his good behavior. In 1983 Orlando began practicing Nichiren Buddhism as a member of the Buddhist association Soka Gakkai International. In 1987 he returned to San Francisco to work with the Giants as a Scout and Good Will Ambassador as Orlando began decades of humanitarian work repairing his image. Orlando was elected by the National BaseballHall Of Fame Veterans committee in 1999 after 15 years on the ballot. Orlando had been a community representative for the San Francisco Giants. Orlando who was loved by everyone whom he ever came in contact with, especially in San Francisco in the North Beach area, everywhere improved his chances for election and it paid off. In 2001 Orlando was Inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame in San Francisco, California. Orlando’s jersey was also retired, # 30 at Candelstick Park, and is also on the Giants Wall of Fame. To date Orlando has been inducted into 14 Halls of Fames.
On September 6, 2008 Orlando was honored with a statue outside Oracle Park, San Francisco, California.
Career Batting average .297 Hits 2,351 Home Runs 379
Gabriel “Tito” Avila, Jr.
HHBMHOF Network International