St. Louis Cardinals: Remembering Orlando Cepeda (1937-2024)

2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages

The St. Louis Cardinals lost a former MVP last Friday night, as Orlando Cepeda passed away at 86. While Cepeda was best known for his time with the San Francisco Giants, Cepeda came to St. Louis in a 1966 trade and was the offensive catalyst behind the Cardinals’ 1967 World Series championship

After he arrived from Puerto Rico along with Roberto Clemente in 1954, Cepeda rose through the Giants’ minor leagues and reached the Major Leagues in 1958. That season saw him win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, the start of a brilliant career. As a member of the Giants, he made 10 All-Star games, back when MLB had two All-Star games between 1959 and 1962.

1965 saw Cepeda have knee surgery and conflicts with manager Alvin Dark regarding the injury above. In May 1966, the Giants traded Cepeda to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ray Sadecki, and he got his career back on track. Cepeda, now a leader on the famous 1967 “El Birdos” team, collected a National League-leading 111 RBIs on his way to winning his only NL MVP award. 

Cepeda finished the 1968 season with St. Louis and won another NL Pennant. The Cardinals traded Cepeda before the 1969 season to the Atlanta Braves for another future NL MVP in Joe Torre. In three seasons with the Cardinals, Cepeda batted .290/.355/.454 with an OPS of .810.

In 2015, Bob Gibson told the media that Orlando Cepeda loved being a St. Louis Cardinal

""For one thing, he was allowed to play his countless Latin records and speak Spanish—although Julian Javier was the only one who could speak it back—in the clubhouse. Those things had been forbidden in San Francisco’s. Nor was our clubhouse divided into ethnic cliques like San Francisco’s.”"

Bob Gibson

Orlando Cepeda was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999. Although Cepeda was enshrined, rightfully, as a Giant, he is a Cardinal legend on those El Birdos teams of the late 1960s.