May 8, 1966: Cardinals trade for future MVP Orlando Cepeda

Orlando Cepeda and Ray Sadecki had very different reactions when they were traded for one another on May 8, 1966.

The trade was announced after the Giants’ three-game sweep of the Cardinals in the final games played at the historic Sportsman’s Park, since renamed Busch Stadium. Cepeda, who had missed almost the entire 1965 season with a right knee injury that required surgery that winter, had been an obvious trade candidate. With Cepeda and Willie McCovey, the Giants had two future Hall of Fame first basemen on their roster, and while they had experimented with Cepeda in left field, the team determined that it wasn’t a long-term solution, especially in the wake of Cepeda’s knee surgery.

Cepeda made his major-league debut as a 20-year-old in 1958. In his rookie season, he hit .312 with 25 homers, 96 RBIs, and a league-high 38 doubles, winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award and placing ninth in the MVP vote. From that point forward, Cepeda was a perennial all-star, averaging 32 homers and 106 RBIs in his first seven major-league seasons.

“Cepeda is a great power hitter,” Cardinals vice president Stan Musial said. “He’s a good hitter to all fields. He swings that bat. You’ve got to be an aggressive hitter to be outstanding and that’s what he is. I don’t know anybody outside of Mays with the sheer power that Cepeda has.”[1]

The Cardinals, who had traded first baseman Bill White to Philadelphia in 1965, began scouting Cepeda during spring training with an eye toward a potential deal.

“The scouts said that he couldn’t play the outfield too well, but he would be all right at first base,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said. “Of course, if his knee were perfect the Giants wouldn’t have given him up. They’d just put him in the outfield, with Willie McCovey at first base.”[2]

In April, the San Francisco Examiner reported that the Giants had been in discussion with the Cubs regarding a trade that would send Cepeda to the Cubs for lefthanded pitcher Dick Ellsworth.[3]

Cepeda was well aware of the trade rumors and even spurred them on. When the Giants arrived in St. Louis on May 6, he told a St. Louis sportswriter that the Cardinals should trade for him.[4] On the bus to the ballpark, Giants infielder Dick Schofield told Cepeda, “Well, this is the day we wrap you up and leave you here. You’ll be in the parade with the Cardinals when they go to the new ballpark.”

Cepeda nodded. “I told my wife to be ready,” Cepeda said. “And I told my friend to find me a house here.”[5]

The following night, the Cardinals’ team physician, Dr. I.C. Middleman, and trainer Bob Bauman examined Cepeda’s knee and found it to be in good condition.[6] The Cardinals also consulted with the Giants’ medical staff, including the physician who operated on Cepeda’s knee.[7] As if to support their findings, Cepeda hit a grand slam in that night’s 15-2 win over the Cardinals, then added a two-run double in a 10-5 win Saturday.

“Cepeda’s knee is in good condition,” Middleman said. “He’ll still need more rehabilitation. No one is better equipped to do this than Bob Bauman. The knee doesn’t bother Cepeda when he strides and hits, as is evident from his performance the past weekend.”[8]

In his autobiography, Schoendienst recalled a meeting between general manager Bob Howsam, vice president Stan Musial, and himself regarding the potential trade.

“Howsam wasn’t certain he should make the deal, but I told him I thought we had enough pitching that we could afford to give up Sadecki,” Schoendienst wrote. “He was still hemming and hawing, and a day later we got together again and started talking. Finally, Stan spoke up and said, ‘Either you make the deal or you don’t. Red would like to make the deal.’ That’s when the trade was made.”[9]

Though he had to know the trade was coming, Cepeda still took the news hard. When manager Herman Franks told him immediately after that day’s game, Cepeda said, “Okay, that’s fine,” then hurried into the training room in a bid to hide the tears in his eyes.[10]

When San Francisco equipment manager Eddie Logan offered Cepeda a Giants cap to commemorate his years with the club, Cepeda shouted, “To hell with the Giants.”[11]

“Orlando will be happier with St. Louis,” Franks said. “He can play first base for the Cardinals and we’ve got a good lefthanded pitcher.”[12]

For the Cardinals, Cepeda not only filled a positional need, but also a much-needed power hitter.

“Well, we needed a big guy to hit the ball,” Schoendienst said. “Cepeda should take some of the pressure off other hitters like Curt Flood, Charley Smith, and Tim McCarver. The pitchers really have been working on Flood and Smith.”[13]

While Cepeda initially was angered by the trade, the 25-year-old Sadecki took the trade in stride.

“I’ve had good luck pitching at Candlestick,” Sadecki said. “I’m looking forward to pitching for the Giants. We’re a contending club – we’re in first place now – and I hope I can do my share.”[14]

Sadecki made his major-league debut with the Cardinals as a 19-year-old in 1960. He had gone 67-64 in just over six seasons with the team, including a 20-win campaign en route to the World Series championship in 1964. In that year’s Fall Classic, Sadecki won Game 1 against the Yankees, pitching six innings before Barney Schultz threw the final three for the save.

“Sadecki’s been a fine pitcher – otherwise, we couldn’t have made the deal,” Howsam said. “Now we have a balanced attack.”[15]

“Red told me right after the ballgame,” Sadecki said after the trade was announced. “This thing’s been rumored for a week, so it wasn’t really a surprise. I’m looking forward to pitching for San Francisco. I’ve never had arm trouble and I’ve felt good all spring. I hope I can help the Giants.” He then grinned and added, “I hope we can keep going. We just beat the Cardinals three in a row.”

“Get out of our clubhouse, or they’ll be fining us $25 for talking to you,” Bob Gibson said.[16]

In San Francisco, where Cepeda was one of the Giants’ most popular players, the trade evoked controversy. However, sportswriter Harry Jupiter pointed out that if Sadecki could help the Giants win the National League pennant, dealing Cepeda would be well worth it.

“Cepeda’s knee is fine now,” Jupiter wrote. “He’ll be a fine first baseman for St. Louis. But the Cardinals aren’t going to win any pennants for a while. And if Sadecki can help San Francisco win the National League race, then the Giants will be more than satisfied with the deal.[17]

Unfortunately for the Giants, Sadecki went just 3-7 with a 5.40 ERA the remainder of the season and the Giants finished two games behind the Dodgers in the race for the National League crown. In four seasons in San Francisco, Sadecki went 32-39 with a 3.52 ERA. In December 1969, the Giants traded him to the Mets, where he played six seasons before being dealt back to St. Louis, along with Tommy Moore, for Joe Torre. He made 11 relief appearances for the Cardinals before he was sent to the Royals to complete an earlier deal.

After an 18-year major-league career, Sadecki retired with a 135-131 record and 3.78 career ERA.

In his first season with the Cardinals, Cepeda hit .303 with 17 homers and 58 RBIs in what proved to be just an appetizer. By 1967, Cepeda had become the heart and soul of the team he affectionately referred to as “El Birdos.” As sportswriter George Vecsey described it:

He was more than the trusted cleanup hitter. Orlando was the life of the party.

The Cardinals would club somebody into submission and troop back into their clubhouse. First thing you knew, Orlando’s soul music was blasting from the phonograph and Cepeda was standing on a chair.

Who wins the game?” he would shout.

“El Birdos,” the Cardinals would respond in their pidgin Spanish.

“What’s the magic word?” Cepeda would ask.

“Nuts to Herman Franks,” the Cardinals would respond. Then they would be free to take their shower or open their beer. Orlando was satisfied.[18]

With Gibson leading the pitching staff, Cepeda powered the Cardinals offense all the way to the World Series title in 1967. With a .325 batting average, 25 homers, and a league-high 111 RBIs, Cepeda was the unanimous NL MVP selection.

“The Most Valuable Player Award, that’s the best compliment any ballplayer can desire,” Cepeda said.[19]

In 1968, Cepeda hit .248 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs, a far cry from his MVP numbers a year earlier. On March 17, 1969, the Cardinals traded Cepeda to the Braves for Joe Torre. The trade marked the end of the “El Birdos” era of the Cardinals, though Torre did win his own NL MVP trophy in 1971 and represented the Redbirds in four all-star games.

In three seasons in St. Louis, Cepeda hit .290 with 58 homers and 242 RBIs. He retired following the 1974 season after 17 years in the majors. An 11-time all-star, he retired with a .297 batting average, 379 home runs, and 1,365 RBIs and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.


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[1] Harry Jupiter, “He Left His Heart Here,” San Francisco Examiner, May 9, 1966.

[2] Neal Russo, “‘We Needed Big Guy’ – Red; Cepeda Will Bat Fourth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 9, 1966.

[3] Harry Jupiter, “Giant-Cub Trade Talk,” San Francisco Examiner, April 19, 1966.

[4] Harry Jupiter, “He Left His Heart Here,” San Francisco Examiner, May 9, 1966.

[5] Harry Jupiter, “He Left His Heart Here,” San Francisco Examiner, May 9, 1966.

[6] Neal Russo, “‘We Needed Big Guy’ – Red; Cepeda Will Bat Fourth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 9, 1966.

[7] Neal Russo, “‘We Needed Big Guy’ – Red; Cepeda Will Bat Fourth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 9, 1966.

[8] Neal Russo, “‘We Needed Big Guy’ – Red; Cepeda Will Bat Fourth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 9, 1966.

[9] Red Schoendienst with Rob Rains (1998), Red: A Baseball Life, Sports Publishing, Champaign, Ill., Page 142.

[10] Harry Jupiter, “He Left His Heart Here,” San Francisco Examiner, May 9, 1966.

[11] Neal Russo, “‘We Needed Big Guy’ – Red; Cepeda Will Bat Fourth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 9, 1966.

[12] Harry Jupiter, “He Left His Heart Here,” San Francisco Examiner, May 9, 1966.

[13] Neal Russo, “‘We Needed Big Guy’ – Red; Cepeda Will Bat Fourth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 9, 1966.

[14] Neal Russo, “‘We Needed Big Guy’ – Red; Cepeda Will Bat Fourth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 9, 1966.

[15] Neal Russo, “‘We Needed Big Guy’ – Red; Cepeda Will Bat Fourth,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 9, 1966.

[16] Harry Jupiter, “He Left His Heart Here,” San Francisco Examiner, May 9, 1966.

[17] Harry Jupiter, “He Left His Heart Here,” San Francisco Examiner, May 9, 1966.

[18] George Vecsey, “Now Cepeda Has His Vindication,” Newsday, November 8, 1967.

[19] Ed Wilks, “MVP Cepeda Has ‘Big Day,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 8, 1967.