Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda dies at 86

San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals great Orlando Cepeda died, the Giants announced Friday. He was 86 years old.

Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 via the veterans committee, Cepeda was among the most-feared power bats of his generation and one of the first great Puerto Rican baseball players in Major League Baseball. His loss comes only 10 days after the death of Willie Mays, with whom he starred on the Giants for nine seasons.

The Giants announced his death during a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, with a moment of silence before the sixth inning.

Orlando Cepeda, first baseman for the San Francisco Giants, has played in eleven All-Star games and three World Series.
Orlando Cepeda was the first Puerto Rican player to start an MLB All-Star Game. (Getty Images)

Cepeda retired in 1974 with no shortage of accomplishments. He was an 11-time All-Star, an NL MVP, a World Series champion, a Rookie of the Year and one of the Giants' great players. However, his post-retirement life was marred when he was arrested on charges of transporting 170 pounds of marijuana from Colombia to Puerto Rico.

Facing no shortage of legal issues, Cepeda spent 10 months in prison. He spent the next several years rehabilitating his image as he returned to baseball as a scout, converted to Buddhism and worked for the Giants as a community ambassador.

After missing out on Hall of Fame enshrinement by nine votes in his final year of BBWAA eligibility in 1994, the veterans committee stepped up five years later to make him the second Puerto Rican to be inducted, joining Roberto Clemente.

Cepeda entered baseball from humble origins, growing up poor in Puerto Rico with a father who was a good baseball player, but unable to attempt an MLB career due to the color line.

He traveled to the U.S. in 1955 to try out for the Giants, then playing in New York. It went well enough that he ended up on the team's Class D squad, but the start of his professional career was interrupted by the death of his father due to malaria.

Cepeda spent his signing bonus on the funeral.

After three years in the minors, Cepeda made his MLB debut in 1958, the Giants' first season in San Francisco. He found stardom quickly as the league's top rookie and became a fixture of the Giants' lineup, often batting fifth behind Mays and Willie McCovey.

That Giants career abruptly ended in 1966, when San Francisco traded him to the Cardinals, during a series against the Cardinals. That trade paid off big for St. Louis, which went on to win 101 games and the 1967 World Series. Even with Stan Musial and Bob Gibson aboard, it was Cepeda who won MVP unanimously after slashing .325/.399/.524 with 25 homers and a league-best 25 RBI.

Cepeda took a major step backward the next season, but the Cardinals still returned to the World Series in the "Year of the Pitcher," losing to the Detroit Tigers in seven games. He was abruptly traded again the next season to the Atlanta Braves, where he played four seasons before finishing out his career with one-year stints on the Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals.