Feeling rejected and unappreciated by the Giants, Orlando Cepeda, who was traded to St. Louis, quickly was embraced by the Cardinals, who saw him as an asset rather than an outcast.
Cepeda responded to the reception by providing the run production the Cardinals needed.
Fifty years ago, on May 8, 1966, the Giants sent Cepeda, 28, a first baseman recovering from knee surgery, to the Cardinals for Ray Sadecki, 25, a left-handed starting pitcher.
Cepeda was informed of the deal immediately after contributing two RBI to the Giants’ 10-5 victory over the Cardinals in the final game played at the original Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
In his book “Baby Bull,” Cepeda said, “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 (Giants manager) Herman Franks walking toward me. I thought he was going to congratulate me … Instead, he told me I was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals. Just like that. No explanation … It came as a total shock.
“Initially, I was crushed,” Cepeda said. “So were my wife and my mother. At times, I had hoped a trade might happen, but it still hurt … The day I was traded I sat by my locker alone and cried. Jim Davenport (a third baseman) was the only non-Latin player to bid me goodbye and wish me well.”
After gathering his belongings, Cepeda went into the Cardinals clubhouse. He was welcomed warmly, describing his new teammates as “an incredible group of guys.”
“Stan Musial (team vice president) came down to see me and to tell me how happy he was to have me with the club,” Cepeda said. “Bob Bauman, the Cardinals’ trainer, made his position clear as well. ‘I’ll take care of your leg,’ he said. ‘You take care of the hits.’ ”
Cepeda called Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver “a special guy,” adding, “Tim never turned his back on me. He showed a strength of character and an unwavering friendship that I have not forgotten.”
On the morning after the trade, Cepeda had breakfast with manager Red Schoendienst and was presented with a contract that increased his yearly salary from $40,000 to $53,000. “Red told me I was going to play first base and hit cleanup,” Cepeda said.
Fitting the needs
The deal had been speculated for a week. The Cardinals needed a first baseman who could hit with power. Rookie George Kernek, who had replaced Bill White at first base, had struggled, with no home runs and three RBI in 20 games. The Giants needed a left-hander to join a rotation that included ace right-handers Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry.
Cepeda and Sadecki fit the needs.
Sadecki had earned 20 wins for the 1964 Cardinals and was the winning pitcher in Game 1 of the World Series that year. He slumped to a 6-15 record and 5.21 ERA in 1965. He was 2-1 with a 2.22 ERA for the 1966 Cardinals.
Cepeda had won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1958 and followed that with a string of successful seasons, including 1961 when he led the NL in home runs (46) and RBI (142) and 1962 when he produced 35 home runs and 114 RBI for the pennant-winning Giants. After undergoing surgery to remove cartilage from a knee in December 1964, Cepeda was limited to 34 at-bats in 1965, hitting .176. He batted .286 with 15 RBI in 19 games for the 1966 Giants.
A three-game series between the Cardinals and Giants at San Francisco in April 1966 heightened interest in a trade.
In the series opener on April 29, Sadecki impressed the Giants, pitching a complete-game five-hitter against them in a 5-1 Cardinals victory. Boxscore
The Giants won the next two games, 6-1 and 2-0, highlighting the Cardinals’ lack of punch.
On May 1, 1966, the Oakland Tribune reported a deal of Cepeda-for-Sadecki was in the works.
Seeing is believing
Five days later, the Giants were in St. Louis for a three-game series. The Giants won the opener, 4-2. In the second game, Cepeda hit a grand slam off Art Mahaffey in a 15-2 Giants triumph. According to The Sporting News, Bauman and Cardinals surgeon Dr. I.C. Middleman checked Cepeda’s surgically repaired right knee that night. Middleman assured the Cardinals that Cepeda’s knee was in good condition.
The next day, May 8, Cepeda hit a two-run double off Cardinals starter Larry Jaster in the first inning.
Convinced Cepeda was healthy and productive, Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam huddled with his counterpart, Chub Feeney of the Giants. In the fifth inning, Howsam and Feeney “completed the deal on the old Busch Stadium roof next to the press box,” the Oakland Tribune reported.
“Seeing the Baby Bull circle the bases must have convinced the Cardinals bosses that the Giants weren’t trying to unload a broken-down player,” wrote Tribune columnist Ed Levitt.
The deal was announced after the game.
Sadecki was in the Cardinals locker room, telling reporters how “we just beat the Cardinals three in a row,” when pitcher Bob Gibson approached and, alluding to a league crackdown on fraternizing, said to him, “Get out of our clubhouse or they’ll fine us $25 for talking to you.”
Cepeda’s presence in the batting order was expected to take pressure off St. Louis batters.
“Bad knee or not, he is still one of the best hitters in the league,” Musial said.
Said Cardinals pitcher Hal Woodeshick: “He (Cepeda) ought to drive in 100 runs hitting behind (Curt) Flood and (Lou) Brock.”
As for Sadecki, Bob Stevens, Giants correspondent for The Sporting News, wrote that the deal “could mean a pennant to the Giants. Ray was what they needed and wanted.”
Schoendienst told United Press International that Sadecki “should win 20 games this season with all the Giants’ hitting power.”
Ed Levitt of the Oakland Tribune, though, expressed doubt, writing: “It grieves us to see (the Giants) turn loose a consistent slugger for an inconsistent pitcher … We question the value given for the value received.”
The deal worked out better for the Cardinals than it did the Giants.
Sadecki was 3-7 with a 5.40 ERA for the 1966 Giants. He twice had 12-win seasons for the Giants: 1967 and 1968. The Giants placed second to the champion Cardinals in both seasons.
Cepeda hit .303 with 17 home runs, 24 doubles and 58 RBI in 123 games for the 1966 Cardinals.
In 1967, Cepeda won the NL Most Valuable Player Award and helped the Cardinals to a World Series championship. He hit .325 with 25 home runs, 37 doubles and a NL-best 111 RBI.
Though the Cardinals repeated as NL champions in 1968, Cepeda faltered, hitting .248 with 16 home runs, 26 doubles and 73 RBI. In March 1969, he was traded by the Cardinals to the Braves for Joe Torre.