From Hardball to Hard Time and Back
by Orlando Cepeda with Herb Fagen
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A SAN FRANCISCO FAREWELL
My last three years with the San Francisco Giants were clouded by several things. On the surface, though, things could not have looked better. On December 3, 1960, I was married to my girlfriend, Annie Pino, in San Juan. We had a small church wedding with my mother, my brother, and some close friends and relatives attending. A large reception of more than 200 people at the San Juan Hilton followed.
Annie joined me for spring training, then we moved to the house I had bought at 48th and Pacheco in San Francisco. We socialized with Juan Marichal, Felipe Alou, Jose Pagan, and their wives. Willie Mac lived next door and was still a bachelor so we had him over for dinner from time to time. Before re-injuring my knee and missing most of 1965, my career was on an upswing. I was Rookie of the Year in 1958, then an All-Star first baseman each year since 1959. Based on statistics some people argue that I might well be the best right-handed hitter ever. Maybe that's true, maybe not. But just the fact that more than a few people said this meant that I was in some select company. My .308 lifetime was third best in the National League. Only Hank Aaron (.320) and Willie Mays (.313) were higher.
But there was a dark underside. My hassles with Alvin Dark became more bitter and disturbing. My salary disputes were headline news. Trade rumors were persistent. Suggestions that the Giants might let me go for a frontline pitcher were rampant. I was a big favorite with the fans, but with the exception of a few writers like Harry Jupitor, Roger Williams, Charlie McCabe, and Jack MacDonald, the press generally was not friendly. They reported the spin Alvin Dark gave them-whether that spin was true or not. In 1962 the New York Mets and the Houston Colt .45s joined the National League as its first expansion teams. New York hadn't had a National League franchise since the Giants and Dodgers left town in 1958.
Our first game against the Mets was unbelievable. The stands were filled with every devout New York Giant fan imaginable and a number of Brooklyn Dodger faithful as well. The number-one attraction was Willie Mays, as it should have been. We were stunned by the ovation he received. He was the conquering hero returned. Felipe, Juan, and I were quite moved. Willie's reception by the New York fans was touching, and we were all happy for him. But Alvin Dark put his own spin on the occasion. He told Look that I had been jealous of Willie's stature, so uncomfortable in fact that I became a less productive hitter in the second half of 1962. Nothing could have been further from the truth. My second-half slump had everything to do with my playing 152 games in 1961, a full season of winter ball in Puerto Rico, and a full 162 games in 1962. I wasn't disturbed by the well-earned acclaim Willie received in New York. I was very proud to be playing on the same team and in the same San Francisco ballpark as Willie Mays.
To compound matters, Dark revealed his complicated plus-and-minus system, which I never understood for a moment. What he deduced was that I had minus value to the team, that I didn't get the big base hit or hit in the clutch. That year Look magazine published an article about me that had been in the works for a year. Photographers shot me at the beach stripped to the waist. I was told the article would tout me as the best right-handed hitter in baseball. But when the article finally appeared, the tone had changed dramatically.
Alvin Dark's plus-and-minus system was the centerpiece of the article. Willie Mays was a hefty plus, Jim Davenport was a plus, Harvey Kuenn was a plus, and I was a minus. My productive value to the club, according to Alvin, was something like a negligible 37.
I thought it was unfair. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to determine that 553 RBIs over five years is clutch hitting under any stretch. Through my first five seasons (1958-1962) I had more RBIs than Willie Mays (514), Ernie Banks (512), and Hank Aaron (494) during their first five major league seasons.
From Baby Bull: From Hardball to Hard Time and Back copyright © 1998 by Orlando Cepeda with Herb Fagen. Reprinted with permission.