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Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda: Baseball Legends Remembered

Posted on July 02, 2024 by Dean Hybl
Longtime teammates Orlando Cepeda and Willie Mays both passed away in June 2024.

Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda, two iconic members of the Baseball Hall of Fame and longtime teammates with the San Francisco Giants passed away within 10 days of each other in late June.

From their early days in the sport to their contributions on and off the field, Mays and Cepeda’s journeys were defined by talent, resilience, and a deep love for baseball.

Willie Mays: The Say Hey Kid

Willie Howard Mays Jr., born on May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Alabama, emerged as one of the greatest all-around players in baseball history. His journey to stardom began in the Negro Leagues before he signed with the New York Giants (later moving with them to San Francisco) at the age of 20. Mays made his MLB debut on May 25, 1951, quickly demonstrating his exceptional skills as a center fielder and hitter.

Mays’s career was marked by numerous achievements and milestones. Known for his extraordinary athleticism, Mays became renowned for making acrobatic catches in the outfield, earning him 12 Gold Glove awards over his career. Offensively, he was equally impressive, hitting for both power and average. He amassed 660 career home runs, which ranked third all-time at the time of his retirement, and had a lifetime batting average of .302.

Willie Mays made his famous over the back catch to rob Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series.

One of Mays’s most memorable moments came during the 1954 World Series when he made “The Catch” — a remarkable over-the-shoulder catch that prevented extra-base hits and helped the Giants secure the championship. This play exemplified Mays’s defensive prowess and contributed to his reputation as one of the most electrifying players of his era.

Off the field, Mays’s charisma and passion for the game endeared him to fans across the country. He became a cultural icon and played a significant role in breaking barriers for African American players in MLB. Mays’s impact extended beyond his playing days, as he continued to be involved in baseball as a coach and ambassador for the sport.

Willie Mays passed away on June 18, 2024, at the age of 93. His death occurred just two days before MLB played their first-ever regular season game at historic Rickwood Field in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.

Orlando Cepeda: The Baby Bull

Orlando Manuel Cepeda Pennes, born on September 17, 1937, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, rose to prominence as a formidable power hitter and first baseman in MLB. Cepeda’s baseball journey began in the minor leagues before he was called up to the San Francisco Giants in 1958, where he quickly made an impact with his powerful bat and infectious enthusiasm for the game.

Cepeda’s career was highlighted by his ability to consistently produce offensively. He won the National League (NL) Rookie of the Year award in 1958 after hitting .312 with 25 home runs and 96 RBIs. Cepeda continued to excel throughout the 1960s, earning seven All-Star selections and leading the NL in RBIs twice during his career.

In 1967, Cepeda had a career-defining season with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he won the NL Most Valuable Player (MVP) award after hitting .325 with 25 home runs and 111 RBIs. He played a pivotal role in helping the Cardinals win the World Series that year, further solidifying his legacy as one of the premier sluggers of his era.

Off the field, Cepeda’s infectious personality and love for baseball made him a fan favorite wherever he played. He became known as “The Baby Bull” for his powerful swing and aggressive style of play. Cepeda’s impact extended beyond his on-field accomplishments, as he became a respected mentor and ambassador for the game.

Tragically, Orlando Cepeda passed away on June 28, 2024, at the age of 86. His death was mourned by the baseball community, which remembered him not only for his baseball prowess but also for his generosity and kindness off the field. Cepeda’s legacy lives on through his contributions to the sport and the lasting memories he created for fans around the world.

Conclusion

Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda were more than just baseball players — they were legends whose talents and personalities transcended the game and are among the all-time greatest players in the history of the New York/San Francisco Giants.

Though their passing marked the end of an era in baseball history, Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda’s legacies remain alive through the memories they created and the lives they touched. They will forever be remembered as two of the greatest players to ever grace the diamond, leaving an indelible mark on the sport they loved and the hearts of those who admired them.

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