From Hardball to Hard Time and Back
by Orlando Cepeda with Herb Fagen
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In Puerto Rico that winter, I worked my ass off. I would run in the water, work with weights, then run some more. I was like Rocky Balboa training for a shot at the title, working harder than I ever had before. When I arrived in Arizona in the spring, I was in the best shape of my life. Even my knee felt good, and I was running well.
But I saw the negativity in Herman's eyes from the start. He didn't seem to recognize or appreciate the shape I was in. He barely seemed to acknowledge me. Willie Mac was amazed by what he saw. We worked out together in the gym, and he was impressed. "Orlando," he said, "you're looking fit. You look terrific!" He even told Herman, "Orlando's in great shape. He's looking good and ready to play."
But Herman was determined to start Willie Mac at first base. He'd hit 39 homers in 1965 while I was injured. Herman also seemed just as determined to keep me out of the lineup period. I believe it had become personal.
I wasn't in the starting lineup for the season opener, not even in the outfield. Willie Mac was at first, and Len Gabrielson and Don Landrum played alongside Willie Mays in the outfield instead of me.
Herman kept calling me lazy. I was faking, he insisted. McCovey had played his heart out for him in 1965. I had done nothing but go to the doctors. The past winter I'd bought a beautiful house in Diamond Heights. Annie and I were expecting the birth of our first child, Orlando Jr. I certainly would not have invested in a home if I knew I'd be traded the following year.
We were in St. Louis playing the Cardinals on Mother's Day weekend. McCovey got hurt, and I played first base that series. I was lining the ball all over the place. I went something like 11 for 15, including a grand-slam home run off Art Mahaffey. Juan Marichal was all smiles. "They'll never trade you now," he said putting his arm around me. "Not with the series you just had."
In the clubhouse after the final game I was as pleased as I could be. I was in the groove. That's when I saw Herman Franks walking toward me. I thought he was going to congratulate me, tell me what a good series I'd had. Instead, he told me I was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Just like that. No explanation. Nothing. Just that I had been traded. It came as a total shock. During the tough times I had occasionally asked to be traded. His answer then was that nobody wanted me.
To this very day, Herman rationalizes the trade by making me the heavy. On one hand he says I was a fearless hitter, one of the best he ever saw, and that it was my refusal to play left field that prompted the trade. On the other hand he did everything he could to humiliate me. My medical problems were there for the record. Harry Jupitor, in his Sporting Green columns, kept abreast. "Cepeda Has Date with Doctor Today" headlined his June 7, 1965, column:
Orlando Cepeda has an appointment with Dr. Herman McLaughlin today in New
York. . . .
He can go back on the active roster whenever he's ready to play. Unfortunately it doesn't appear that Cepeda will be ready for a while.
He's been taking batting practice on the Giants' current trip, and his batting eye seems to be getting sharp. But Cepeda still cannot run or slide, or put sudden or severe pressure on his knee.
Charlie Einstein, no media friend, noted in his August 15, 1967, column for the Chronicle that Dr. Sollovief told the Giants I was not only as good as new but that I was better. I begged Herman to give me a chance at first base again. His answer was, "McCovey breaks his back for me, but you don't try to do a damned thing. Why should I do anything for you?"
I told Hank Sauer that if need be I wanted to be the best left-fielder in the league since McCovey had taken over first. I had no chance though. Herman said I couldn't play for the club with my knee. Herman's story is that I made it impossible for him to play me because I wouldn't go to the outfield. The truth is that Herman made it impossible for me to play anywhere.
Herman Franks turned his back on me, humiliated me, and then traded me. I'll leave it at that.
So I was shipped to the St. Louis Cardinals on Mother's Day weekend 1966. Initially I was crushed. So were my wife and my mother. At times I had hoped a trade might happen. But it still hurt. There were wonderful memories of the team, the fans, and the city of San Francisco. The day I was traded I sat by my locker alone and cried. Jim Davenport was the only non-Latin player to bid me good-bye and wish me well.
From Baby Bull: From Hardball to Hard Time and Back copyright © 1998 by Orlando Cepeda with Herb Fagen. Reprinted with permission.