Former San Francisco Giant first baseman and Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda the subject of Amaury Pi Gonzalez’ interview on That’s Amaury’s News and Commentary (file photo mercurynews.com)
A One on One with Orlando Cepeda
That’s Amaury News and Commentary
By Amaury Pi-González
On the eve of the 2021 baseball season, I had the pleasure of speaking over the phone with the great Cha Cha, Orlando Cepeda, somebody I have not seen or spoken with in a few years. Through the years we have spoken numerous times.
During the 1990’s working Giants Spanish radio at Candlestick and later at ATT, SBC, PAC BELL Park. He used to come around and we would talk. On some occasions he sat with me during a radio broadcast and did some commentary. Orlando was one of the first Major League Players who endorsed The Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame when it was founded in 1999 in San Francisco.
He is enshrined in that Hall of Fame as well as in The National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown. He won the rookie of the year with the San Francisco Giants in 1958, the Most Valuable Player of the National League in 1967 with the St Louis Cardinals.
He was one of the most popular players ever to wear a San Francisco Giants uniform. The interview was conducted in Spanish, Orlando born in Ponce, Puerto Rico always prefer to speak Spanish when we talk. In our chat we talked about the day when the Giants retired his number 30 prior to a game in Candlestick Park against the St Louis Cardinals in 1999, a ceremony on the field with Giants announcer Lon Simmons, yours truly who was asked by the Giants to be the co-mc with Simmons, Jack Buck, radio voice of the St. Louis Cardinals and the owner of the Giants Peter Magowan.
We were all on the field between home plate and the mound, lined-up behind a podium. Towards the end of the ceremony a big Number 30 was unveiled in front of the fence in right-center field as the fans stood-up and cheered. I asked Orlando about that moment, responded right away.
Orlando: “Yes, of course I remember and I also remember that Mr. Magowan told me “now Orlando the next step for you is the Hall of Fame” and that helped me a lot. Soon I was in the Hall of Fame. He was a great owner…Magowan loved the game, very committed owner and that was a great honor for me that the Giants retired number “30”.
Orlando was in good spirits. We reminisced about some of the great points in his career. Like the people who saw him play in San Francisco and remember him playing with the Giants in 1958, his very first year in the majors. Is it true that in 1958 you were more popular than the great Willie Mays in San Francisco?
Orlando: ”Well, what happened is that I was a rookie; it was a new team for me. Willie came from New York, and I did very well that year, you know, people liked me in San Francisco. Willie is the greatest ballplayer ever, but good things happened to me that year, and when that happens and the people like you…also I had a good year…and that’s what happened”.
(That year he won the Rookie of the Year hitting .312 with 25 home runs and 96 runs batted-in) In 1967 Orlando was traded to the St Louis Cardinals from pitcher Ray Sadecki. Were you happy when that trade happened?
Orlando: “Well, I had problems with Herman Franks (Giants manager) and it was going to be me or McCovey who was going to be traded”
About his arrival in St Louis? Orlando responded
Orlando: “I had a great welcome there, the guys like Gibson, McCarver, and Brock they all welcome me and treated me very well”
At one the time in the interview, there was a moment when even before I asked the next question, he said something about five Puerto Ricans in the Hall of Fame. And that is true. Puerto Ricans like Roberto Clemente, Iván Rodríguez, and Roberto Alomar and soon to be Edgar Martínez who was born in New York to Puerto Rican parents, moved to the island to live with his grandmother, he said: Orlando followed…
Orlando: “Yes, great…we have five Puerto Ricans now in the Hall of Fame, that’s great, I am very proud of that”.
How about your relation with your compatriot Roberto Clemente?
Orlando: “When I first played with the Giants, Roberto was already playing (since 1955) with the Pirates, Roberto helped me a lot, he was a great guy”
I asked him about what does he thinks about the recent changes in the game of baseball, many with the purpose of making the game faster
Orlando: “Well, a lot of people making these changes never played the game, they are not baseball people, they are computer and business people and all that, but not real baseball people”.
Orlando’s opinion is a common one for older players who had to do everything to win a game, including bunting, hit and run and other stuff that today is well…cancelled in baseball? Orlando was getting a little tired, and he said:
Orlando: “I am speaking too fast, too much”
He seemed to be a little short of breath, so we paused. Then… after a few seconds. We spoke about Opening Day in baseball this April 1.
Orlando: “I am hoping to be at the Giants first game at home April 9”
He said as we said goodbye mutually wished each other well and told me he send his best wishes to everybody. A couple of years ago Orlando had a cardiac incident and spent some time in the hospital. However he made a public appearance in January 2018 to celebrate the 80th birthday of Willie McCovey at AT&T Park.
Gracious, passionate and always ready to talk baseball, it was fun to talk for about 15 minutes, not more, but he seemed alert and with very good memory of some of the events we spoke about in his very stellar career. Other stuff we touch bases, like, he doesn’t agree much with some of the changes in the game today, although he did say at the end of his career the DH rule helped him, he played in 1973 (next to his last year) with the Boston Red Sox, as he said “I was one of the first designated hitters”.
1973 was the first year for the DH rule, Orlando seems to be fine with that, but not with some of the recent changes in the game as previous stated.
Muchas gracias al gran Orlando Cepeda por su cortesía de concederme esta entrevista por la vía telefónica, sigues siendo el mismo Cha Cha, que Dios te Bendiga. Translation “Thanks to the great Orlando Cepeda for his courtesy granting me this interview over the phone, your still the same Cha Cha, may God Bless You.
Stay well and stay tuned
Amaury Pi Gonzalez is the vice president and Orlando Cepeda is a founder of the Major League Baseball Hispanic Heritage Hall of Fame Museum and does News and Commentary at http://www.sportsradioservice.com