He was nicknamed "Baby Bull" because his father, Perucho "The Bull" Cepeda, was a great Puerto Rican slugger in his own right. Although he was only 20 years old when he broke into the majors, Cepeda was immediately successful with the San Francisco Giants, winning the Rookie of the Year in 1958, belted 25 homers, led the National League with 38 doubles, knocked in 96 runs and batted .312. In his first Major League game, this Latino powerhouse homered to help beat Don Drysdale and the Dodgers.
His manager for the first two years, Bill Rigney called him " the best young right-handed power hitter I've ever seen." He was very successful with the Giants, hitting in a lineup with Willie Mays and Willie McCovey ahead of him; he was a 6-time All-Star there (1959-1964), hit .309 and averaged 32 home runs and 106 RBIs. He was also a fan favorite, rivaling and even exceeding Mays in popularity.
Perhaps his best season was 1961 - with a league-leading 46 HR and 142 RBI, he finished second in the NL in slugging percentage and total bases, all career bests for him. In 1962, he had another big year and helped get the Giants into the World Series - he and Willie Mays keyed the offense, and the able supporting cast included 23-game winner Jack Sanford, Felipe Alou, Juan Marichal, Billy Pierce, and Willie McCovey (then, like Cepeda, 24 years old, but still emerging as a star; he was a role player that year, playing in 91 games, but hit 20 HR in 229 at-bats). The Giants lost in 7 games that year to the Yankees.
But conflicts with management bounced him to the St. Louis Cardinals in mid-1966. In 1967, he turned in a powerhouse performance - he hit a career high .325 and drove in 111 runs - that earned him a 7th and final All-Star berth, the National League MVP award (by unanimous selection) and another World Series berth. That Cardinals team had great pitching - with Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Nelson Briles and Dickie Hughes - and enough offense (Lou Brock was the other big gun, and Roger Maris and Tim McCarver helped as well) to win the World Championship.
Cepeda retired with 379 home runs, 1,365 RBIs, and 417 doubles in 17 seasons. He struggled badly in 1968, left for the Atlanta Braves in 1969 and struggled again; in 1970, he turned in one more outstanding season - a .305 batting average, 34 HR and 111 RBI. But at the age of 32, his best years were behind him - he would play 4 more seasons, hit 39 more home runs, and drive in 157 more runs.
His unanimous selection as the National League's Most Valuable Player was the senior circuit's first unanimously elected MVP since Carl Hubbell in 1936.
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