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Orlando Cepeda, Legendary Baseball Hall of Famer, Passes Away At 86

 June 30, 2024

Baseball is in mourning amid news that a Hall of Fame first baseman and one of the first Puerto Rican stars in Major League Baseball, has passed away at the age of 86.

The death of Orlando Cepeda, 86, was announced by his family and the San Francisco Giants, according to the Associated Press.

A moment of silence was held at Oracle Park during a Giants game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. This tribute reflects the deep respect and admiration the baseball community had for Cepeda. The passing of Willie Mays on June 18 at age 93 added to the collective mourning of the Giants' fans and the baseball world.

Early Career and Achievements

Cepeda, a prominent figure in Major League Baseball, was a regular at Giants home games until health challenges began in 2017. He was hospitalized following a cardiac event in February 2018, which marked the beginning of a series of health issues. Despite these challenges, Cepeda's contributions to baseball remained significant and memorable.

In 1973, limited by knee issues, Cepeda became Boston’s first designated hitter. This role not only extended his career but also led to his enshrinement into the Hall of Fame in 1999 by the Veteran’s Committee. Cepeda was celebrated at Fenway Park on May 8, 2013, for his role as a designated hitter, highlighting his impact on the game even after his prime playing years.

Notable Career Statistics

Cepeda hit .289 with 20 home runs and 86 RBIs in 1973, earning DH of the Year honors. This achievement was particularly remarkable given his physical limitations at the time. His early struggles, including learning English and overcoming cultural challenges upon arriving in the U.S., did not hinder his rise to baseball stardom.

The baseball standout's career was not without its controversies. however. He was convicted in 1976 for smuggling marijuana and arrested in 2007 for possession of drugs. Despite these setbacks, his legacy on the field remained untarnished. A seven-time All-Star, 1958 NL Rookie of the Year, and 1967 NL MVP, Cepeda had a career batting average of .297 with 379 home runs.

Personal Reflections and Legacy

Cepeda's family shared their grief, saying, “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.” This statement encapsulates the personal loss felt by those closest to him.

Bob Melvin, reflecting on Cepeda’s impact, said, “Man, what another gut punch. Another just incredible personality and just beloved here. Statue out front. The numbers he put up, there are a lot of legends here and he’s certainly right in the middle of that. To have it so close in proximity to Willie, it’s kind of staggering.”

Tributes From Baseball Community

Jane Forbes Clark, representing the Hall of Fame, stated, “Orlando Cepeda’s unabashed love for the game of baseball sparkled during his extraordinary playing career, and later as one of the game’s enduring ambassadors. We will miss his wonderful smile at Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown, where his spirit will shine forever, and we extend our deepest sympathies to the Cepeda family.”

Cepeda himself once remarked on his career's turning points, saying, “Boston called and asked me if I was interested in being the DH, and I said yes. The DH got me to the Hall of Fame. The rule got me to the Hall of Fame.” His humility and gratitude were evident in his reflections on his career.

Overcoming Challenges

Cepeda’s career was marked by resilience. “It means a lot. Amazing. When you think everything’s finished, it’s only the beginning,” he once said, highlighting his enduring spirit. Reflecting on his 1973 season, he noted, “That was one of the best years because I was playing on one leg and I hit .289. And I hit four doubles in one game. Both my knees were hurting, and I was designated hitter of the year.”

His determination was clear as he added, “It wasn’t easy for me to win the award. They had some great years.” Cepeda’s journey was not just about his athletic prowess but also about his ability to overcome adversity.

“Coming here my first year, everything was a novelty to me, a surprise. When I came to Virginia, I was there for one month and my father died. My dad said, ‘I want to see my son play pro ball,’ and he died the day before I played my first game in Virginia. From there I went to Puerto Rico and when I came back here, I had to come back because we didn’t have no money and my mother said, ‘You’ve got to go back and send me money, we don’t have money to eat.’”

Celebrating A Multicultural Legacy

Rob Manfred, MLB Commissioner, emphasized Cepeda's broader impact, stating, “Orlando overcame challenges throughout his life to build a Hall of Fame career. This beloved figure from Puerto Rico was one of the many players of his era who helped turn baseball into a multicultural game.”

Cepeda himself expressed gratitude for his natural talent, saying, “I just did it. Every day, I say to myself, how lucky I am to be born with the skills to play ball.”

Conclusion

Orlando Cepeda’s death at 86 marks the end of an era for Major League Baseball. From his early struggles to his Hall of Fame career, Cepeda’s life was a testament to resilience, talent, and the love of the game.

His contributions as a player and ambassador for baseball will be remembered by fans and players alike. As the baseball community mourns his loss, Cepeda’s legacy will continue to inspire future generations of players.