November 7, 1967: Voters unanimously name Orlando Cepeda NL MVP

In 1967, Orlando Cepeda was more than the heart of the World Series champion “El Birdos.” On November 7, he was named the first unanimous National League MVP since Carl Hubbell received all six first-place votes in 1936.

“The Most Valuable Player Award, that’s the best compliment any ballplayer can desire,” Cepeda said.[1]

The recognition capped a season in which Cepeda, in his second season with the Cardinals, batted .325 with 25 homers and a league-high 111 RBIs. It was a resurgent season for the 30-year-old first baseman, who experienced highs and lows during the first nine seasons of his career with the Giants.

Cepeda burst onto the major-league scene as a 20-year-old in 1958, batting .312 with 25 homers and 96 RBIs to win the Rookie of the Year Award. After six consecutive all-star seasons, Cepeda was hobbled by knee injuries in 1965 and made just 40 plate appearances. Herman Franks, newly installed as the Giants manager that season, was unimpressed.

On May 8, 1966, the Giants traded Cepeda to the Cardinals for left-hander Ray Sadecki, a 20-game winner in 1964. It proved to be a welcome change for Cepeda.

“Orlando loved being a Cardinal,” Bob Gibson wrote in 2015. “For one thing, he was allowed to play his countless Latin records and speak Spanish—although Julian Javier was the only one who could speak it back—in the clubhouse. Those things had been forbidden in San Francisco’s. Nor was our clubhouse divided into ethnic cliques like San Francisco’s.”[2]

In 123 games for the Cardinals that season, Cepeda hit .303 with 17 homers and 58 RBIs, winning the St. Louis writers’ comeback player of the year award.[3]

By 1967, Cepeda had became the heart and soul of the team he affectionately referred to as “El Birdos.” As 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.[4]

The Cardinals’ pitching staff was particularly pleased to have Cepeda in the lineup. Gibson described the scene one day in 1967 when Cepeda was running late. With the team waiting on Cepeda, some of the players began to call for the driver to take them to Shea Stadium and leave the tardy Cepeda behind.

Gibson wasn’t having it. Standing up in the middle of the bus, he declared, “We’re waiting for Cepeda. The pitchers aren’t leaving without him.”[5]

Cepeda was one of four Redbirds to place in the top 10 in that year’s MVP voting. Tim McCarver, who hit .295 with 14 homers and 69 RBIs, placed second in the voting with eight second-place votes. His 136 points edged the Pirates’ Roberto Clemente, who tallied 129 in the voting.

Lou Brock hit .299 with 21 homers, 76 RBIs, and 52 stolen bases to finish seventh in the voting. Julian Javier, who hit .281 with 14 homers and 64 RBIs, placed ninth.

The Reds were the only other team in the National League with multiple players in the top 10, as Tony Perez finished seventh and Pete Rose was 10th.

“I have to thank Bob Howsam for taking the big chance on me, and I have to thank Stan Musial for the encouragement and trainer Bob Bauman for helping with my leg,” Cepeda said after winning the MVP Award. “They have had a lot to do for me. I think for Bauman they should give him the Most Valuable Trainer Award.”[6]

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

[2] Bob Gibson with Lonnie Wheeler (2015), Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game, Kindle Android Version, Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 53.

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

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

[5] Bob Gibson with Lonnie Wheeler (2015), Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game, Kindle Android Version, Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 53.

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

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