St. Louis Cardinals: Orlando Cepeda and his forgotten monster 1967

In 1967, Orlando Cepeda had a monster year which led the St. Louis Cardinals to their eighth World Series Championship. However, you need to look closely at the numbers to tell just how big of a brute that monster was.

When you just take a cursory look at Orlando Cepeda’s .325 batting average, 25 homers and 111 RBI in 1967, you might say the numbers are impressive, but not monstrous. You have to dig deeper into the numbers to come up with ‘monster’ to describe his MVP season for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Yes, Cepeda won the NL MVP award in 1967, but he only led the league in one category, RBI. However, when you look at the other offensive categories in 1967, he finished in the top ten in most of them.

But it’s his offensive splits that make his 1967 year so special and important for the road to the Cardinals eighth World Championship. That’s what this article will take a close look at and show just how Orlando Cepeda’s year in 1967 was indispensable to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Cepeda and Pre-1967

Orlando Cepeda didn’t just come out of nowhere in 1967. He was already an established star when he arrived in St. Louis after a trade with the San Francisco Giants during the 1966 season.

In fact, he had already earned the NL Rookie of the Year in 1958 and had made six straight All-Star appearances from 1959 to 1964. Cepeda led the league in 1961 in home runs (46) and RBI (142) when he hit a slash line of .311/.362/.609 with an OPS+ of 156. He also finished second in the NL MVP voting that year to Frank Robinson of the Cincinnati Reds.

Cepeda hit the ground running when he arrived in St. Louis on May 8, 1966. His right-handed bat proceeded to hit 17 homers and 58 RBI with a slash line of .303/.362/.469 in only 123 games.

Cepeda and 1967

The reason the St. Louis Cardinals brought in Orlando Cepeda, was to solve some of their offensive issues prior to his arrival. The Cardinals weren’t favorites to win the NL Pennant in 1967, the oddsmakers had them at 12-1.

The 29-year-old Cepeda was put in the cleanup spot behind Roger Maris and the Cardinals offense took off on their march to the NL Pennant. In the NL top ten offensive categories, Cepeda finished 6th in batting average (.325), 5th in slugging percentage (.525), 4th in OPS (.923), 7th in total hits (183), 6th in total bases (295), 2nd in doubles (37), 9th in home runs (25), and first in RBI (111).

But you really need to dig deeper at his other and less obvious offensive stats to understand his consistency in 1967, and what made it such a special season for Cepeda.

In splits regarding right-handed pitchers he hit a slash line of .311/.362/.480 and left-handed pitching it was .353/.467/.614.

Home vs Away splits? Home, his slash line was .322/.405/.479 and Away, his line was .328/.393/.564.

First half vs Second half? First half, his slash line was .356/.431/.556 and in the second half, his line was .291/.364/.489.

Game Conditions? Night games his slash line was .317/.397/.508, and day games were .340/.403/.956.

However, it was his situational hitting in 1967 which made Cepeda stand out. With two outs in an inning, he hit a slash line of .338/.441/.627, and with RISP, his slash line was an incredible .380/.505/.557. With two outs and men in scoring position, his slash line was an unbelievable, .412/.574/.632, and finally, with men on, his line was an outstanding .342/.438/.541.

I could go on. It didn’t seem to matter the situation or the pitcher. He hit both power and finesse (.317 vs .308), and fly ball vs ground (.335 vs .351). Also, it didn’t seem to matter the opponent or the park, he just hit in 1967.

Finally

The St. Louis Cardinals would not have won or even made it to the World Series without Orlando Cepeda. The Cardinals needed offensive help in 1967 and Cepeda delivered.

No doubt, there were other players on the team who were essential to that World Championship. Certainly, the Cardinals couldn’t have done without Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, or Roger Maris. But Cepeda was the last piece of the puzzle that propelled the Cardinals into the 1967 World Series.

Although he isn’t eligible for the Cardinals Hall of Fame due to the three-year requirement, Orlando Cepeda was a special baseball player. He is one of the few players in baseball history who was a unanimous choice for both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player. He joins Albert Pujols, Frank Robinson, and Mike Trout with those honors.

Cepeda was surprised, along with most Cardinal fans when he was traded to the Atlanta Braves in March of 1969 for Joe Torre. However, Cepeda continued to be a productive bat for the Braves in 1969 and 1970.  His career ended with the Kansas City Royals in 1974.

Next: Paul DeJong vs. the shortstops of the NL Central

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In 1999, Orlando Cepeda was elected into Baseball’s Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee, and in 2008, to the San Francisco Giants Hall of Fame. In the hearts and minds of Cardinals fans, Cepeda will always be remembered for his 1967 season.

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