Saturday, May 10, 2014

May 10, 1966: Cepeda Debuts With The Birds

     On May 10, 1966, Orlando Cepeda made his debut with the Cardinals, and made a quick impression by going  2 for 4 with a home run in what turned out to be 8-0 beatdown of the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley. His big fly was a sixth inning solo shot, and it was the first of 58 home runs that he would hit in the three years that he wore the Birds on the Bat.

     Bob Gibson got in on the offensive action with an inside-the-park home run in the seventh. Curt Flood and Mike Shannon added solo shots of their own before it was in the books. Gibby went the distance in the contest, as he scattered six hits, and struck out seven.

     Two days earlier Cepeda was a member of the San Francisco Giants. He had been with the club since the '58 season when he won the Rookie of the Year award. The next year another Giants player arrived on the scene by the name of Willie McCovey. Both Cepeda and McCovey were first baseman, so the Giants organization had to stick one or the other in the outfield to keep both bats in the lineup. This led to Cepeda being an expendable player in the eyes of Giants General Manager Chub Feeney who knew he wanted to add a lefty to the Giants staff. A month before Cepeda was dealt to the Cards he came very close to becoming a member of the Cubs, but a deal that would have sent Dick Ellsworth to the City by the Bay fell apart. A month later Cepeda was hitting a home run for the team that called St. Louis home.

      The trade was not well received by some of Cardinal Nation, because some looked at Sadecki as an up and coming pitcher. Afterall, he was he was only 25 years old, and he had won 20 games in the Championship year of 1964.However, the '65 season was proving to be a tough one for Sadecki who had a record of 6-15 when he was dealt. Sadecki pitched for 10 more seasons after he left St. Louis, but never did come close to that 1964 form. On the Cardinals side of the deal the team got exactly what they were looking for. Bill White had been a solid presence at first base from 1960 to 1965, but he had been dealt to the Phillies, and there was a hole with Phil Gagliano penciled in at first. Gagliano hit .240 in '65, and adding a guy like Cepeda added some pop to the lineup that it was seriously lacking.

     The '66 campaign was one that saw the Cardinals finish sixth in the National League. However, the addition of Cepeda was a key in what would come in 1967. Cepeda not only won the National League MVP Award, he was also crowned a World Series Champion. He batted .303 in '66 for the Birds, then .325, with a league leading 111 RBIs during his MVP campaign. His average dropped to .248 in '68, and right before Opening Day in 1969, Cepeda was shipped to Atlanta in exchange for Joe Torre who had a pretty good stretch of his own in St. Louis that included a League MVP Award in 1971. The Cha-Cha era in St. Louis might have been a short one, but it sure the hell was a memorable one, and it started out with a bang On This Day In Cardinal Nation.

Check out the box score here:

You can read more about Cepeda's life and Hall of Fame career here:


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