How Orlando Cepeda Became a Cardinal MVP

Swap Shop: Orlando Cepeda for Ray Sadecki

It was a “baby” for “baby” swap that benefitted both teams, but was critical in resurrecting the career of slugger Orlando Cepeda.

For 6 seasons from 1958 through 1964, Cepeda hit for a combined .309 batting average and averaged 32 home runs and 107 runs batted in.

For six seasons from 1958 through 1964, Cepeda hit for a combined .309 batting average and averaged 32 home runs and 107 runs batted in.

Almost from the day he joined the San Francisco Giants, Cepeda was a beast with a bat. Signed by the Giants in 1955, the “Baby Bull” made his major league debut in 1958 and was the National League’s Rookie of the Year, batting .312 with 25 home runs and 96 RBIs. For six seasons from 1958 through 1964, Cepeda hit for a combined .309 batting average and averaged 32 home runs and 107 runs batted in. He had a monster year in 1961, batting .311 and leading the National League with 46 home runs and 142 RBIs. He finished second in the voting for Most Valuable Player to Cincinnati’s Frank Robinson.

How do you trade a player with that kind of productivity? The Giants had three reasons for dealing Cepeda in 1966 to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ray Sadecki:

  1. An off-season injury in 1964 required knee surgery and extended rehabilitation. Cepeda missed nearly all of the 1965 season, and the Giants weren’t willing to risk diminished performance from first base, especially when …
  2. The Giants were blessed with a surplus of talented hitters, and could replace Cepeda at first base with a guy named Willie McCovey, who hit 39 home runs in Cepeda’s absence in 1965, plus …
  3. The Giants needed starting pitching if they were going to catch the pennant-defending Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Cardinals had a good one available.

Ray Sadecki blossomed into a big-time starter in 1964, when he led the World Series champion Cardinals with a 20-11 record.

Ray Sadecki blossomed into a big-time starter in 1964, when he led the World Series champion Cardinals with a 20-11 record.

Ray Sadecki was a left-handed “bonus baby” who finally blossomed into a big-time starter in 1964, when he led the World Series champion Cardinals with a 20-11 record. But that year he posted a 3.68 ERA (which would be considered excellent today, but was merely average among 1960s pitchers). In 1965, his ERA ballooned to 5.21 and his record slipped to 6-15. The Giants took a chance on his turnaround.

Sadecki had a couple good seasons in San Francisco, but never quite turned into the southpaw ace the team was looking for. He was a combined 5-8 in 1966, and was 12-6 with a 2.78 ERA for the Giants in 1967 (when fellow Giants southpaw Mike McCormick went 22-10 and claimed the National league Cy Young award). Sadecki was 12-18 for the Giants in 1968 despite a 2.91 ERA and six shutouts. He was traded to the New York Mets after the 1969 season.

Cepeda’s knee healed, and his bat came back to life, though not with the ferocity he showed during his first six seasons. Cepeda batted for a combined .301 average in 1966 with 20 home runs and 73 RBIs. In 1967 he batted .325 with 25 home runs and a league-best 111 RBIs. He won the National League MVP award for 1967.

He hit only 16 home runs for the Cardinals in 1968 (a “down” year for hitters in both major leagues) and was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Joe Torre. He lasted in the major leagues through the 1974 season, and retired with a .297 career batting average, 379 home runs and 1,365 runs batted in … numbers good enough to earn him induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

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