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Last weekend, the Hall
of Fame opened a new exhibit, Viva Baseball, which chronicles the history of
Latin Americans in the game. Hall of Fame first baseman Orlando
Cepeda, a native of Puerto Rico and one of 11 Latinos currently enshrined in Cooperstown, attended the exhibit opening. During a wide-ranging
conversation with Mark McGuire of the Albany-Times Union, Hall of Fame researcher
Bill Francis, and me, Cepeda talked about his father, Negro Leagues shortstop Perucho
Cepeda, his own experiences playing in San Francisco, and his relationship with
fellow Puerto Rican Roberto Clemente. Humble in discussing his own
accomplishments, Cepeda lavished praise on a number of lesser known Latino
standouts, including Minnie Minoso, Ruben Gomez, and Hector Espino.
McGuire: What do
you think, looking around this exhibit, seeing your dad’s stuff [on display]?
Awesome. Awesome. Incredible. You know, he never saw me play [in the major
leagues]. You know he died one day before I played my first pro game. He died.
I remember like in 1952, I was 15 and I got my knee operation. He had to talk
to the doctor and asked him, “Do you think my son will be able to play ball?”
My father always had it in his mind that someday I would be a ballplayer.
McGuire: Who was
better, you or him?
Cepeda: He was
McGuire: When you
look at the state of Latin players, we think of them as one big group,
regardless of what country they come from. Do you notice different styles of [Latino]
players from different countries? Or is it pretty much the same?
Cepeda: The same.
Baseball is [played] one way. They [the Latino players] are the same. So many
great players, from the Dominican, Venezuela, from Cuba, they never had the
opportunity to play in the big leagues–they never made the Hall of Fame–but
they were as good as people who are in the Hall of Fame. So many great Latino
players, like Minnie Minoso, they opened the door for us. He was the first
Latino star in the big leagues, Minnie Minoso. There was also Vic Power, Ruben
Gomez, so many great players that never made it to the Hall of Fame, but they
were very good players.
McGuire: What do
you think of the idea that you’re part of an exclusive club here in the Hall of
Fame of Latino players, but it’s pretty much going be doubled [in membership] soon.
Cepeda: Yeah, it
is. We’re so proud that we were the first ones in the Hall of Fame. A day like
today will live forever. So that’s why I say thank you to Hall of Fame
president Jeff Idelson for thinking about putting this [exhibit] together. It’s
a great day for Latinos.
kind of strange how you growing up couldn’t necessarily have dreamed of playing
in the major leagues [because of skin color], but with Albert Pujols, Jose
Reyes, Johan Santana now, you really can’t picture baseball today without
Cepeda: Al Kaline
told me last year that if it weren’t for the Latino player, baseball would have
been dead by now because there are just so many great Latino players today.
Earlier, Juan Marichal talked about how you and Felipe Alou helped him when he
first came to the big leagues with the Giants. Who helped you when you first
arrived in San Francisco?
Gomez. Ruben Gomez. In 1958, I lived with him. You need somebody to work with
you. And that’s what we did with Juan in 1960. We made him feel welcome right
Markusen: Of all
the major league cities you played in, which was the most receptive to Latin
Cepeda: Oh, San Francisco. San
Francisco, because they had so many people from different backgrounds, so much
diversity. Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Central Americans. So they welcomed me
right away in San Francisco.
Francis: Can you
talk about how the Giants embraced the Latin American player? It seems like the
Giants had a lot of Latin Americans. Was it because of Alex Pompez [the scout]?
Cepeda: No, it
wasn’t Alex Pompez. The guy who signed me–his wife is here today– was Pete
[Pedrin] Zorrilla. Pedrin, he was very close to Horace Stoneham, the Giants’
At one time, the Giants had like 30 Latinos in the minor
leagues. Manny Mota, Jose Pagan, me. From 1954 on, a lot of Latinos.
Francis: Can you
talk about the Alvin Dark incident? Was that the worst experience you had in major
about that, he told me a few years back that he was very sorry that happened.
He didn’t know the Latino heritage, that for a Latino to come here and do well,
was very difficult. He was very sorry for that.
must have been tough.
very hard, very hard. Because baseball is a tough game in all aspects, and now
you had to deal with Dark and you had to deal with the pitcher. You had to deal
with the game every day; it was very hard.
close were you with Roberto Clemente?
Cepeda: Well, I
knew Roberto since 1950. He played for my dad, you know, for a couple of games,
but didn’t make the team. In 1955, we came here to the states. He came here in
1954, to Montreal.
In ’55, we flew together to Florida for spring
training to Fort Myers,
the Giants’ minor league complex. Yeah, very close. Still very close to the family,
his wife, Roberto Jr., who is here today.
must remember very well where you were when you heard that he had died.
Cepeda: Oh yeah,
I was at my brother’s house, when I heard the news.
player prominently featured in this exhibit is an underrated player, Hector
Espino, who was called the “Babe Ruth of Mexico.” Did you ever play against
Cepeda: Yeah, I
played against him in 1974. He came up, I believe it was in 1960, with St. Louis. He signed with St. Louis [but never
played in the major leagues]. I played against him in ’74, when he was in the
good was Espino?
Markusen: Do you
think he would have starred in the majors.
yeah. He was a great low ball hitter. If you’re a great low ball hitter, you
can play anywhere.
I can’t recall a player seemingly resurrecting his career in mid-season the way that Carlos Delgado has for the Mets in 2008. By the middle of June, I had joined the chorus of doomsayers who had declared Delgado finished, the victim of a slowing bat and fading reflexes. Some extreme pessimists had actually recommended the Mets deal Delgado to the cross-town Yankees for the equally slumping Jason Giambi. Three months later, Delgado has emerged as a National League MVP candidate, albeit a darkhorse after the likes of Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, Chase Utley, and Mets teammate David Wright. Delgado has been on a tear since late June, averaging an RBI a game over his last 65 games while lifting his slugging percentage to a season-high .504. Delgado’s two home runs on Sunday gave Johan Santana all the cushion he required, helping the Mets to a much-needed series-salvaging win against the Phillies. There are plenty of theories that attempt to explain Delgado’s rise from oblivion; some say that Delgado has benefited from the managerial change that saw Willie Randolph give way to Jerry Manuel, while others credit a shortened swing. I tend to favor the latter explanation, but the reasons don’t really matter to the Mets, who are benefiting from the slugger’s remarkable turnaround, or to Delgado, who is earning himself a nice contract for 2009. Amazing…
In a season filled with disappointing mediocrity, the Yankees may have suffered their largest embarrassment over the weekend, when they lost two out of three to the sinking ship known as the Mariners. The losses were bad enough, but the way they lost the games brought the Yankees an extra level of humiliation. In the first game, the Yankees barely avoided a no-hitter against Brandon Morrow, who was making his first major league start after a mid-season conversion from the bullpen. In the third game of the set, the highly paid Yankees fell victim to the pitching of the unpronounceable Ryan Feierabend, who had compiled a lifetime ERA of over 7.00 before improving his statistical lines against New York’s anemic offense. Including the debacle against Feierabend, the Yankees have now lost three of their last four games, further cementing their non-playoff fates in 2008…
One of the few bright spots for the Yankees in recent days has been the pitching of Alfredo Aceves, who will make his first major league start on Tuesday and figures to play some kind of role on New York’s 2009 pitching staff. Aceves represents one of the Yankees’ few ventures into the Mexican League since the days of the good-field, no-hit Celerino Sanchez. A veteran of six Mexican League seasons, Aceves has moved quickly through the Yankees’ farm system this summer and figures to have more long-term impact than Sanchez, who played parts of the 1972 and ’73 seasons before fading from the major league scene. At six-three, 220 pounds, Aceves throws four pitches, including a live fastball that ventures into the mid-1990s and a hard-breaking curveball that bends the knees of opposing hitters. Here’s one possible scenario for Aceves: he starts 2009 in the rotation and then moves back to the bullpen in June, reversing roles with the equally versatile Joba Chamberlain…
Finally, a link to one of baseball’s most colorful teammates passed away on Sunday. Former major league infielder and manager Don Gutteridge, the last surviving member of the Cardinals’ “Gas House Gang” of the 1930s, died at the age of 96. A versatile infielder, Gutteridge played for the Cardinals from 1936 to 1940 before playing for the American League champion St. Louis Browns in 1944. Gutteridge also managed for two seasons before becoming a scout, his career in baseball spanning more than 60 seasons.