Ernie Banks Positive Image
Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
25, 1999 Orlando Cepeda was inducted into the Baseball Hall
of Fame during ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y. That he was
inducted should come as no surprise
Cepeda was a lifetime .297 hitter with 379 home runs and
during his 17-year playing career with the Giants, Cardinals,
Red Sox, and Royals. He appeared in 3 World Series, was
a 7-time All-Star and batted over .300 in nine different
seasons. He hit a home run against the Dodgers in his very
first Major League game in 1958 and went on to win Rookie
of the Year Honors. He was the 1966 Comeback Player of the
Year, 1967 Most Valuable Player en route to a World Championship
with the Cardinals, and he was 1973s Designated Hitter
of the Year. He is only the second Puerto Rican native to
enter the Hall of Fame, joining the late Roberto Clemente.
And he is the only player to unanimously win both
Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player. He is one of
only four San Francisco Giants to have his uniform number
retired joining former teammates Willie Mays, Willie McCovey,
and Juan Marichal.
it took so long for the "Baby Bull" to be recognized
by Cooperstown was the only surprise.
baseball and civil rights pundits look at sports history,
Jackie Robinson is often the first name to be mentioned.
Today, as Japanese, Chinese, Australian and New Zealand
stars are the newest immigrants to sports rosters already
filled with African-American and Latino names, it is easy
to overlook that Orlando Cepeda was a pioneer of the Latino
ballplayer in the United States. With dark skin, a Latin
surname and Spanish his only language upon arrival to this
country in the 1950s, his journey to the big leagues was
never an easy one, despite his extraordinary talents. He
was also the son of Perucho Cepeda, "The Bull,"
a Puerto Rican baseball star whose shadow would both haunt
and inspire Orlando for years to come. And yet, he overcame
these obstacles en route to a remarkable career.
is the catch, you may ask? In Cepedas autobiography,
Baby Bull: From Hardball to Hard Time and Back, Orlando
speaks honestly about turning to marijuana beginning in
1964 & 1965. Nursing a serious knee injury that threatened
to hijack his career, Orlando started smoking weed regularly
to escape pain and depression. He says in his book, "How
little I knew then that my association with marijuana would
one day destroy the life I knew and the very people I loved."
After his retirement Orlando Cepeda served time for marijuana
smuggling. He admitted his guilt and served his time but
the incident definitely tarnished the image of this great
sports icon. It isnt so much that marijuana itself
destroyed his life, it is certainly a minor league drug
among major league substances, but rather his dependency
on it to escape his injuries and his inner demons. What
makes Orlando Cepeda special is that he didnt let
his life and legacy end with this metaphorical "strikeout."
He fought back and rebuilt his life, without a bat in his
hands. Much of this he credits to his embracing of Buddhism
and to friends and family who never deserted him, even when
he had nothing.
legacy he is leaving is an impressive one indeed. His commitment
to community service includes credentials for a Humanitarian
Hall of Fame. He is now recognized nationally for his humanitarian
efforts as an ambassador for baseball and the San Francisco
speaks regularly to the Puerto Rican community in the Bronx
and Manhattan about the importance of staying in school
and staying away from drugs. He serves as honorary spokesperson
for the Crohns and Colitis Foundation of America.
He visits inner-city schools throughout the country in conjunction
with HOPE: Helping Other People Excel. Each December,
Orlando tours as part of the Giants Christmas Caravan visiting
hospitals, schools and youth groups including the UC San
Francisco Medical Center pediatric cancer ward. He is a
participant in Athletes Against AIDS. He is also a public
speaker for the Omega Boys and Girls Club, counseling at-risk
children in the community.
also helped countless other causes including the La Familia
Counseling Service, I Have a Dream Foundation, Fairfield
Rotary Club, Giants Community Fund, Save High School Sports,
All-Pro Baseball Camp, San Francisco Giants Youth Clinics,
Sanctuary of Transitional
Housing, Santa Clara Family Living Center and The worldwide
effort to immunize children against polio.
from the St. Louis Dispatch described the true value of
Orlando Cepedas ordeal as "
of a man who crawled back from a plunge so deep and bleak
that he contemplated suicide
a man who attacked his
demons, head-on, and became a better person. Cepedas
one mistake was ultimately valuable in that led to a thousand
visits to schools and playgrounds
on to ask: "Is any living member of the Hall of Fame
doing as much to touch the lives around him? Cepeda is more
than some vague platitude; he is character and integrity