March 17, 1969: Cardinals trade Orlando Cepeda for Joe Torre

On March 17, 1969, the Cardinals traded a former National League MVP for a future one, sending first baseman Orlando Cepeda to the Braves for catcher and first baseman Joe Torre.

The 29-year-old Torre’s departure from the Braves was no surprise. Since placing second to Billy Williams in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 1961, Torre had been a mainstay in the Braves’ lineup, earning all-star appearances from 1963 through 1967. In 1963, he hit .321 with 20 homers and 109 RBIs to place fifth in the MVP vote. In 1965, he won the only Gold Glove of his career and in 1966 he hit a career-high 36 home runs.

After four consecutive seasons hitting .291 or higher, however, Torre’s numbers began to tail off in 1967. That June, he was hitting .315 when he twisted his ankle while chasing Philadelphia’s Clay Dalrymple in a rundown, suffering torn ligaments and missing four weeks of action.[1] He finished the season batting .277 with 20 homers and 68 RBIs.

In 1968, Torre suffered a broken finger in April, then was hit in the face by a pitch from Cubs pitcher Chuck Hartenstein that broke his left cheek and his nose, keeping him out of action for approximately six weeks.[2] He finished the season with a .271 batting average, 10 homers, and 55 RBIs in 115 games, his lowest total since 1962.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg wrote, “In Torre, the Cardinals were getting a player whose personal problems, financial and otherwise, caused the Braves concern over a period of time. But an improved domestic situation reportedly has cleared up this difficulty.”[3]

To Torre, it was clear that his recent spate of injuries had impacted his numbers.

“I’m the last one to make excuses, but these are the facts,” he said.[4]

Heading into 1969, Torre sought a salary of $77,000. The Braves countered with an offer of $60,000.[5] The relationship between Torre and Braves vice president Paul Richards, already strained by Torre’s role as the Braves’ union representative during the threat of a players’ strike, grew even more fractured as Torre held out of spring training. Richards told the media that based on Torre’s performance the past two seasons, the catcher “could hold out until Thanksgiving” as far as he was concerned. In response, Torre asked that the Braves not only meet his salary demands, but also that he receive an apology from Richards.[6]

Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports editor Jesse Outlar wrote that when a recent meeting between Richards and Torre left the two sides at an impasse, Torre left his calling card on Richards’ desk. Richards, however, informed the catcher that he wouldn’t need the card, as he had no intention of calling Torre with an upgraded offer.[7]

“I’m sure that my problems with Paul Richards stemmed largely from my activities as player representative of the Braves,” Torre said. “Living in New York, I was more active than other representatives, and Richards could have resented that because he seemed considerably more outspoken than any other major league official toward the players’ efforts to improve themselves. It hurt to be criticized publicly by Richards, as the Braves’ general manager, but it wouldn’t have hurt nearly so much if he had criticized me behind closed doors.”[8]

With Torre’s days in Atlanta numbered, his hometown Mets seemed like the ideal destination. Though the two sides spent considerable time discussing a trade that would have sent Torre back to New York, they were unable to reach an agreement. In one proposal, the Mets offered Nolan Ryan, who had not yet cracked the New York rotation; third-string catcher J.C. Martin; reserve infielder Bob Heise; and first baseman/outfielder Ed Kranepool for Torre and Bob Aspromonte. The Braves had no interest in the proposal.[9]

The Braves offered to trade Torre for Mets catcher Jerry Grote, but the Mets refused. The Braves also expressed interest in third baseman Amos Otis, but he was among several players the Mets considered untouchable.[10]

“The Mets have too many untouchables,” Richards said. “They have so many players they can’t trade that I can’t understand why they don’t win the pennant. I’ll never know how they finished ninth last year.”[11]

Unable to reach an agreement with the Mets (who would win the National League pennant and a World Series championship in 1969), Richards turned to Cardinals general manager Bing Devine. Three months earlier, at the winter meetings in San Francisco, Devine offered Cepeda for Torre and Felipe Alou. Devine also offered to trade Cepeda and Curt Flood for Torre and Alou, but Richards declined that offer as well.[12] Finally, the two sides agreed to exchange Torre and Cepeda in a one-for-one deal.

Though Torre initially hoped the deal with the Mets would bring him back home, he and his family were delighted to go to St. Louis, where the Cardinals had won the World Series in 1967 and the National League pennant in 1968. When Braves president Bill Bartholomay called to share the news, Torre’s 3 ½-year-old stepdaughter Lauren ran through their Long Island home shouting, “We’re Redbirds!”[13]

When Torre called his mother in Brooklyn to tell her about the trade, she replied, “Now go to church and thank God.”[14]

“Mom recognized what going with a championship ball club like the Cardinals meant,” Torre said. “Maybe this is one of the pleasant benefits of having a sister who is a nun.”[15]

He added, “I’m very happy. Sure, I expressed a desire to be traded to the Mets, if I had to leave the Braves, because New York is home. But that’s because I had no idea that I could wind up on a championship ballclub. Besides, I’m afraid I’d have been hit for far too many passes by friends and family if I were playing in New York.”[16]

Torre’s relationship with Devine got off to a smooth start. Devine told Torre he would primarily play first base but would also back up Tim McCarver behind the plate. Torre agreed to terms for the 1969 season and made plans to report to Cardinals spring training. Torre told Broeg that it took about 30 seconds for him to a slight increase from the $65,000 he had been paid in Atlanta.[17]

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Mr. Devine after talking to him,” Torre said. “Before he asked me anything about money, he told me I’d play every day with them – mostly at first base but filling in behind the plate sometimes. He kind of built me up and made me feel good before we ever talked salary. I’m just coming out of the fog, but I’m very happy. You certainly can’t have any complaints when you get traded to a club like the Cardinals. I think I’ll be able to make some money with them.”[18]

In Cepeda, the Cardinals were giving up the unanimous 1967 National League MVP selection. Cepeda had come to St. Louis less than three years earlier in a May 1966 trade that sent Ray Sadecki to the Giants. Upon his arrival, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound first baseman made an immediate impact, batting .303 with 17 homers and 58 RBIs in his first season.

In 1967, Cepeda hit .325 with 25 homers and 111 RBIs to lead the Cardinals to the World Series championship. Cepeda’s power was so important to the Cardinals’ offense that when Cepeda was late to join the team bus on its way to Shea Stadium, Bob Gibson made it clear that they would wait for the big first baseman.

“We’re waiting for Cepeda,” Gibson said, standing up to address his teammates. “The pitchers aren’t leaving without him.”[19]

In the World Series against the Red Sox, however, Cepeda hit just .103 (3-for-29). The following year, his postseason struggles followed him into the regular season, as his average dipped to .248 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs. Coincidentally, he enjoyed his best success against the Braves, batting .365 with four homers and 18 RBIs against his future teammates.

He had heard the rumors regarding a possible trade, but didn’t know whether there was anything to them.

“I guess there was, though, huh?” he said with a laugh.[20]

Cepeda’s three-year tenure in St. Louis ended with a .290 batting average, 58 homers, and 242 RBIs.

“I hate to go because everybody has been so good to me – the manager, the coaches, the players, and the whole city of St. Louis – but now I will have to start all over again,” Cepeda said. “That’s life. I’m not overly optimistic, but I like to look at the bright side of things and I’m looking for better things ahead. I will be trying, always trying. That is all I can promise. I will try to make the trade good from my point, though for sure. I am joining a good ball club … one that can win the pennant.”[21]

In Atlanta, the 31-year-old Cepeda joined a Braves lineup led by Henry Aaron and Rico Carty.

“We are very happy to have Cepeda as our first baseman,” Richards said. “Cepeda gives us another big home run threat that we needed to force the opposition to pitch to Hank Aaron.”[22]

“There was a game last year where Walt Alston put Aaron on when he was the winning run,” Braves manager Luman Harris said. “I don’t think we’ll see any more of that … not with Cepeda following Hank in the order.”[23]

In his first season in Atlanta, Cepeda hit .257 with 22 homers and 88 RBIs, helping the Braves capture the National League West championship with 93 wins. He returned to familiar form in 1970, batting .305 with 34 homers and 111 RBIs, though the Braves fell to fifth place in the NL West.

In 1971, a knee injury limited Cepeda to part-time duty, and he finished the year with a .276 average, 14 homers, and 44 RBIs. After Cepeda had surgery, he was traded to the Athletics in July 1972 for former Tigers ace Denny McClain. After playing just three games with the A’s, Cepeda hit .289 with 20 homers and 86 RBIs for the Red Sox in 1973 before closing out his career with the Royals at age 36.

Cepeda’s 17-year major-league career included a .297 career batting average, 379 home runs, and 1,365 RBIs.

In his debut season in St. Louis, Torre hit .289 with 18 homers and 101 RBIs. In 1970, the Cardinals began using him at third base. Appearing in 161 games, Torre hit .325 with 21 homers and 100 RBIs.

In 1971, Torre led the National League with a .363 batting average, 230 hits, and 137 RBIs on his way to the National League MVP Award. For the next three seasons, he remained a consistent offensive player, hitting in the .280s each season while averaging approximately 12 home runs and 73 RBIs. Following the 1974 season, the Mets finally acquired Torre, trading Sadecki and Tommy Moore to St. Louis to acquire the nine-time all-star.

Torre played the final seasons of his career in New York. In 1977, the Mets named him their player-manager, though Torre quickly retired as a player to focus on his managerial duties. He managed the Mets through the 1981 season and returned to Atlanta to serve as the Braves’ manager from 1982-1984.

In 1990, Torre was named the Cardinals’ manager. Over six seasons, he led the team to a 351-354 record.

In 1996, he took over the Yankees. Over 12 seasons in the Bronx, he won six American League pennants and four World Series championships and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager in 2014.


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[1] Bob Broeg, “Cardinals’ Torre Is a Thinking Man’s Ballplayer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1969.

[2] Bob Broeg, “Cardinals’ Torre Is a Thinking Man’s Ballplayer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1969.

[3] Bob Broeg, “Memory of Richards May Fire Up Torre,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 19, 1969.

[4] Bob Broeg, “Cardinals’ Torre Is a Thinking Man’s Ballplayer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1969.

[5] Wayne Minshew, “Torre Traded for Cepeda,” Atlanta Constitution, March 18, 1969.

[6] Bob Broeg, “Cepeda Dealt; Torre to Play First, Catch,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 18, 1969.

[7] Jesse Outlar, “The Torre Story,” Atlanta Constitution, March 19, 1969.

[8] Bob Broeg, “Cardinals’ Torre Is a Thinking Man’s Ballplayer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1969.

[9] Jesse Outlar, “The ‘Untouchables,’” Atlanta Constitution, March 18, 1969.

[10] Jesse Outlar, “The ‘Untouchables,’” Atlanta Constitution, March 18, 1969.

[11] Jesse Outlar, “The ‘Untouchables,’” Atlanta Constitution, March 18, 1969.

[12] Jesse Outlar, “The Torre Story,” Atlanta Constitution, March 19, 1969.

[13] Bob Broeg, “Cardinals’ Torre Is a Thinking Man’s Ballplayer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1969.

[14] Bob Broeg, “Cardinals’ Torre Is a Thinking Man’s Ballplayer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1969.

[15] Bob Broeg, “Cardinals’ Torre Is a Thinking Man’s Ballplayer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1969.

[16] Bob Broeg, “Cardinals’ Torre Is a Thinking Man’s Ballplayer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1969.

[17] Bob Broeg, “Cardinals’ Torre Is a Thinking Man’s Ballplayer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 1969.

[18] Bob Broeg, “Cepeda Dealt; Torre to Play First, Catch,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 18, 1969.

[19] Bob Gibson, Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game, Kindle Android Version, Page 53.

[20] Bob Broeg, “Cepeda Dealt; Torre to Play First, Catch,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 18, 1969.

[21] Bob Broeg, “Cepeda Dealt; Torre to Play First, Catch,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 18, 1969.

[22] Wayne Minshew, “Torre Traded for Cepeda,” Atlanta Constitution, March 18, 1969.

[23] Wayne Minshew, “Cepeda Trade Delights Lum,” Atlanta Constitution, March 19, 1969.

3 thoughts on “March 17, 1969: Cardinals trade Orlando Cepeda for Joe Torre”

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