Orlando Cepeda, slugging Hall of Fame first baseman nicknamed ‘Baby Bull,’ dies at 86

SAN FRANCISCO — Orlando Cepeda, the slugging first baseman nicknamed “Baby Bull” who became a Hall of Famer among the early Puerto Ricans to star in the major leagues, has died. He was 86.

The San Francisco Giants and his family announced the death Friday night and a moment of silence was held as his photo showed on the scoreboard at Oracle Park midway through a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Our beloved Orlando passed away peacefully at home this evening, listening to his favorite music and surrounded by his loved ones,” his wife, Nydia, said in a statement released through the team. “We take comfort that he is at peace.”

It’s been a heartbreaking month for the Giants given Cepeda’s death followed Hall of Famer Willie Mays’ passing only 10 days earlier on June 18 at age 93.

“Man, what another gut punch,” said Giants manager Bob Melvin, who grew up in the Bay Area cheering for the team. “Another just incredible personality and just beloved here. Statue out front. The numbers he put up, there are a lot of legends here and he’s certainly right in the middle of that. To have it so close in proximity to Willie, it’s kind of staggering.”

Cepeda was a regular at Giants home games through the 2017 season until he dealt with some health challenges. He was hospitalized in the Bay Area in February 2018 following a cardiac event.

One of the first Puerto Rican stars in the majors but limited by knee issues, he became Boston’s first designated hitter and credits his time as a DH for getting him enshrined into the Hall of Fame in 1999 as selected by the Veteran’s Committee.

“Orlando Cepeda’s unabashed love for the game of baseball sparkled during his extraordinary playing career, and later as one of the game’s enduring ambassadors,” Hall of Fame Chairman Jane Forbes Clark said. “We will miss his wonderful smile at Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown, where his spirit will shine forever, and we extend our deepest sympathies to the Cepeda family.’

When the Red Sox called Cepeda in December 1972 to inquire whether he’d like to be their first designated hitter, the unemployed player accepted on the spot.

“Boston called and asked me if I was interested in being the DH, and I said yes,” Cepeda recalled in a 2013 interview with The Associated Press in the 40th year of the DH. “The DH got me to the Hall of Fame. The rule got me to the Hall of Fame.”

He didn’t know what it would mean for his career, acknowledging, “I didn’t know anything about the DH.” The experiment worked out beautifully for Cepeda, who played in 142 games that season — the second-to-last in a decorated 17-year major league career. The A’s had released Cepeda only months after acquiring him from Atlanta on June 29, 1972.

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