Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Cepeda struck out in All-Star play

One of the more popular new cards in the 1958 Topps set was that of Orlando Cepeda.

After three years in the minors in which he batted a cumulative .340 with an average of 24+ home runs, Cepeda opened the '58 season as the regular first baseman of the San Francisco Giants, who in those days were a constant threat to my Milwaukee Braves' pennant hopes.

Cepeda went on to win (unanimously) the NL Rookie of the Year Award as the Giants contended for much of the season. Cepeda hit .312 with 25 home runs; both were second-best on the team to Willie Mays. His 96 RBIs tied Mays. Cepeda's 38 doubles led the league. 

It didn't seem fair that with a first baseman like that, San Francisco was able to bring up Willie McCovey the following year, moving Cepeda to left field.

Cepeda went on to a 17-year major league career that saw him win an MVP and a World Series ring in 1967. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999 by the Veterans Committee, after falling just short at 73.5% of the needed votes in his final year of eligibility (1994) by the baseball writers. His vote count in the course of his 15 years' of "regular" eligibility had been as low as 10.1% in 1982. This was a result, no doubt, of his 1978 conviction and imprisonment on marijuana smuggling charges.

While he did eventually make the Hall of Fame, it was not as a result of his All-Star Game highlight reel. There may not be, in fact, an All-Star who played in so many Midsummer Classics with so little offensive output.

Cepeda was selected for the NL All-Star squad 11 times in seven years (they played two A-S Games a year in 1959-62), and played in nine of those games. His All-Star batting record is .039 -- 1-for-27, with three strikeouts.

Here's a summary of Cepeda's All-Star futility . . . 
July 7, 1959   starting 1B  0-for-4
Aug. 3, 1959  reserve 1B  Did Not Play
July 11, 1960  reserve LF 0-for-1
July 13, 1960 reserve LF 0-2
July 11, 1961  starting LF  0-for-3
July 31, 1961  starting LF 0-for-3
July 10, 1962  starting 1B  0-for-3
July 30, 1962  starting 1B  0-for-1
     (drew a walk off Dave Stenhouse to load bases in bottom of 1st)
July 9, 1963  reserve 1B  Did Not Play
July 7, 1964  starting 1B  1-for-4
     (bloop single behind first off Dick Radatz in bottom of the 9th to score Mays and tie game at 4-4; Johnny Callison won with walk-off three-run homer)
July 11, 1967  starting 1B  0-for-6

I'm at a loss to explain how a guy who hit .297 over 17 years in the bigs could fare so badly in the All-Star Game . . . but there you have it.


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