2001 Ernie Banks Positive Image
Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

On July 25, 1999 Orlando Cepeda was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame during ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y. That he was inducted should come as no surprise…

Orlando Cepeda was a lifetime .297 hitter with 379 home runs and 1,364 RBIs during his 17-year playing career with the Giants, Cardinals, Braves, A’s, Red Sox, and Royals. He appeared in 3 World Series, was a 7-time All-Star and batted over .300 in nine different seasons. He hit a home run against the Dodgers in his very first Major League game in 1958 and went on to win Rookie of the Year Honors. He was the 1966 Comeback Player of the Year, 1967 Most Valuable Player en route to a World Championship with the Cardinals, and he was 1973’s Designated Hitter of the Year. He is only the second Puerto Rican native to enter the Hall of Fame, joining the late Roberto Clemente. And he is the only player to unanimously win both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player. He is one of only four San Francisco Giants to have his uniform number retired joining former teammates Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Juan Marichal.

…That it took so long for the "Baby Bull" to be recognized by Cooperstown was the only surprise.

When baseball and civil rights pundits look at sports history, Jackie Robinson is often the first name to be mentioned. Today, as Japanese, Chinese, Australian and New Zealand stars are the newest immigrants to sports rosters already filled with African-American and Latino names, it is easy to overlook that Orlando Cepeda was a pioneer of the Latino ballplayer in the United States. With dark skin, a Latin surname and Spanish his only language upon arrival to this country in the 1950s, his journey to the big leagues was never an easy one, despite his extraordinary talents. He was also the son of Perucho Cepeda, "The Bull," a Puerto Rican baseball star whose shadow would both haunt and inspire Orlando for years to come. And yet, he overcame these obstacles en route to a remarkable career.

So what is the catch, you may ask? In Cepeda’s autobiography, Baby Bull: From Hardball to Hard Time and Back, Orlando speaks honestly about turning to marijuana beginning in 1964 & 1965. Nursing a serious knee injury that threatened to hijack his career, Orlando started smoking weed regularly to escape pain and depression. He says in his book, "How little I knew then that my association with marijuana would one day destroy the life I knew and the very people I loved." After his retirement Orlando Cepeda served time for marijuana smuggling. He admitted his guilt and served his time but the incident definitely tarnished the image of this great sports icon. It isn’t so much that marijuana itself destroyed his life, it is certainly a minor league drug among major league substances, but rather his dependency on it to escape his injuries and his inner demons. What makes Orlando Cepeda special is that he didn’t let his life and legacy end with this metaphorical "strikeout." He fought back and rebuilt his life, without a bat in his hands. Much of this he credits to his embracing of Buddhism and to friends and family who never deserted him, even when he had nothing.

The legacy he is leaving is an impressive one indeed. His commitment to community service includes credentials for a Humanitarian Hall of Fame. He is now recognized nationally for his humanitarian efforts as an ambassador for baseball and the San Francisco Giants.

Orlando speaks regularly to the Puerto Rican community in the Bronx and Manhattan about the importance of staying in school and staying away from drugs. He serves as honorary spokesperson for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. He visits inner-city schools throughout the country in conjunction with HOPE: Helping Other People Excel. Each December, Orlando tours as part of the Giants Christmas Caravan visiting hospitals, schools and youth groups including the UC San Francisco Medical Center pediatric cancer ward. He is a participant in Athletes Against AIDS. He is also a public speaker for the Omega Boys and Girls Club, counseling at-risk children in the community.

He has also helped countless other causes including the La Familia Counseling Service, I Have a Dream Foundation, Fairfield Rotary Club, Giants Community Fund, Save High School Sports, All-Pro Baseball Camp, San Francisco Giants Youth Clinics, Sanctuary of Transitional Housing, Santa Clara Family Living Center and The worldwide effort to immunize children against polio.

An editorial from the St. Louis Dispatch described the true value of Orlando Cepeda’s ordeal as "…the rejuvenation of a man who crawled back from a plunge so deep and bleak that he contemplated suicide…a man who attacked his demons, head-on, and became a better person. Cepeda’s one mistake was ultimately valuable in that led to a thousand visits to schools and playgrounds…"

It goes on to ask: "Is any living member of the Hall of Fame doing as much to touch the lives around him? Cepeda is more than some vague platitude; he is character and integrity at work."

We couldn’t agree more.

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