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Cepeda Finally Gets Cooperstown Ticket

Baseball: Former Giant and Cardinal slugger, passed over by writers, elected to Hall of Fame by Veterans Committee.

March 03, 1999|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TAMPA, Fla. — Orlando Cepeda, one of baseball's most productive hitters during a 17-year career subsequently marred by a 1975 arrest for smuggling marijuana in his native Puerto Rico, was elected to the Hall of Fame on Tuesday during a meeting of the Veterans Committee here.

The committee also elected Smokey Joe Williams, a star pitcher in the Negro leagues, turn-of-the-century manager Frank Selee and longtime American League umpire Nestor Chylak.

Cepeda will join Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount, all elected by vote of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America, at the induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., on July 25.

"I've had a lot of good things and bad things happen in my life, but this is the moment that erases everything," Cepeda said in a conference call with reporters. "It's a great day for baseball, the Cepeda family and Puerto Rico."

The San Francisco Giants, with whom Cepeda spent a little more than eight seasons and now works in community relations, announced that Cepeda's No. 30 will become the ninth number to be retired by the club, joining former teammates Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal, among others.

"As a rookie on the Veterans Committee, I'm glad he got in on my first year," Marichal said of Cepeda. "He was the type player who had no fear, the type player you wanted behind you."

The 12-member committee also considered former Pittsburgh second baseman Bill Mazeroski, Boston center fielder Dom DiMaggio and manager Dick Williams, but they failed to get the required 75% or nine votes.

Cepeda, a first baseman who was known as the Baby Bull, hit better than .300 in nine seasons, had 379 homers and drove in 1,365 runs. He is the only player to have been a unanimous selection as both rookie of the year in the National League (with San Francisco in 1958) and most valuable player (with St. Louis in 1967.) Cepeda estimated that he would have had another 200 homers and 300 RBIs if he hadn't had knee problems throughout his career, but "I'm very pleased with my career and feel very fortunate to have played as many years as I did."

Cepeda's last of 15 years on the writers' ballot was 1994. He received 335 votes, only seven shy of the required 75% of voting members. His failure to be elected by the writers has been generally attributed to his 1975 arrest, for which he spent 10 months in prison.

"I'm a human being and I made a mistake," he said Wednesday. "I learned big time. I was determined to become a better person and to convince people I deserved to be in [the Hall of Fame]."

And in some ways, Cepeda said, the arrest was the best thing that happened to him, since it prompted him to reorganize his priorities and led him to a belief in Buddhism.

In addition, during nine years as a member of the Giants' community relations staff, he has frequently visited inner-city schools to warn about drug abuse.

Cepeda cited human fallibility and said he was happy to see Lawrence Taylor, who has battled substance abuse among other problems, elected to the NFL's Hall of Fame and is hopeful that Pete Rose, who is on baseball's suspended list for gambling violations, will reach Cooperstown.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

At a Glance

The Veterans Committee elected four players to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday.

ORLANDO CEPEDA

* First baseman played from 1958-1974. Was the NL's rookie of the year in 1958 with San Francisco and the league's first unanimous MVP in 1967 with St. Louis. Batted .297 with 379 home runs and 1,365 runs batted in.

NESTOR CHYLAK

* Was an American League umpire from 1954-78 and worked five World Series and six All-Star games. Eighth umpire elected to Hall of Fame. Died in 1982.

FRANK SELEE

* Managed from 1890 to 1905 in the National League with Boston and Chicago. Had a winning percentage of .598. Died in 1909.

"SMOKEY" JOE WILLIAMS

* Pitched from 1910-32 in the Negro leagues with several teams, including Homestead Grays and New York Lincoln Giants. Credited with a winning percentage of .624. Died in 1946.

Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount, who were elected in January by the Baseball Writers Assn. of America, will also be inducted July 25 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

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