Monday, May 10, 2021

The Cepeda Transition


TRIVIA WINNER: Congrats to Tim Nathan of Berkley, MI, who correctly stated Bobby Richardson was the lone Yankee regular to bat .300 or better at .301 during the previous season (1959). The Prize: Starbucks Gift Card.

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NEW TRIVIA QUESTION: Of his 379 home runs in the big leagues Orlando Cepeda hit, all but 21 were in the National League. Which American League pitcher gave up his Final Home Run in August 1974? 
ANSWER to the Trivia question in the previous column:
While Bill Skowron was the only Yankee regular to bat .300 or better in the 1960 season, Bobby Richardson was the only Yankee regular to bat .300 or better the previous season (1959) when he hit .301.

When a player is traded to a new team for what may be termed "a change of scenery" the player sometimes responds right away. For Orlando Cepeda it was typically year two. In the 1960s the Baby Bull did it twice. First with the Cardinals and later with the Braves. Cepeda, for all his slugging and glory, was a transitional player, a key piece of the puzzle, a perfect cog in the wheel for many different teams. 

The big first baseman was a monster for the Giants at first base but when Willie McCovey came along in 1960, the Giants had to make a decision. Cepeda was shipped off to the outfield and while not the happiest player on the team, he continued to hit well, but a knee injury felled him. In 1966 it was time to move on from Cepeda and the Giants needed pitching. A one for one trade sent Cepeda to the Cardinals for lefty starter Ray Sadecki

Cedpeda didn't respond immediately but in year two he led the Redbirds to the National League pennant and to a World Series win over Boston. Teamed with a revived Roger Maris, Tim McCarver and Bob Gibson's magnificence he belted 25 homers, hit .325 and drove in 111. He was named MVP for his troubles. It was a unanimous vote. The following year he fell off (as did all big league hitters in 1968) to .248, 16 homers and 73 RBI. It was still good enough to win the pennant but the Cardinals lost to Detroit in the World Series.

Over the winter the Cards sent him to Atlanta for Joe Torre who became an all-star and batting champ in St. Louis. Again Cepeda did not respond until year two with his new club. He had nearly the same stats with the exact same 111 RBI, although his homers (34) and his BA (.305) were close.  To point out how good Cepeda could be in a "year two" scenario; In his second year with the Giants (1959) he drove in 105 runs on 27 homers and a .317 BA. 

Those were three of his five 100-RBI seasons. To be fair, he was pretty consistent over the years with his best season being 1961 when he smacked 46 home runs and drove in 142 at a .311 clip to finish second in the MVP Race. In 1958 he was named Rookie of the Year, again by unanimous vote. Orlando Cepeda was some kind of player and worthy of his Hall of Fame induction.

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