By Matt Silverman from High Falls, NY United States:
Orlando Cepeda was a revolutionary player. He was San Francisco's first homegrown star after the Giants arrived in California in 1958--the great Willie Mays was considered a holdover from the franchise's days in New York. "The Baby Bull," so nicknamed because he was the son of great Puerto Rican slugger Pedro "The Bull" Cepeda, was a tremendous run producer in a time when those players were rare. And in Mays and Willie McCovey the Giants had three of the National League's best. With Juan Marichal as the team's ace, it's amazing that San Francisco won only one pennant. Their inability to win wasn't Cepeda's fault--after leaving the Giants he helped the Cardinals and Braves reach the postseason three straight years--but Cepeda's biggest mistakes happened away from the field.
Beloved by his teammates, Cepeda had problems with his knees and his managers, which together led to five uniform changes in his final eight years in the major leagues. He also had difficulties with his marriage and the IRS, but his lowest point came after his career ended when he served time in prison for trafficking marijuana. In a book aimed at young adults these things are not simple to address or explain, but Bruce Markusen does both very well. It's not just a book about a baseball player, it's a story about a man of flawed character who swallows his sizeable pride and proves to be greater in defeat than he was in victory.
Disgraced in his home country and not entirely welcomed in America, Cepeda started his life anew in plain sight of those who thought of him as a criminal who had thrown away fame, wealth, and respect. He made it back to the major leagues as a coach, but didn't last long in any place. Fittingly, the turnaround came in San Francisco, and the author does a wonderful job of recreating the scene. You can almost see a packed Candlestick Park and hear the roar of the crowd when he throws out the first pitch during the 1987 playoffs. He admits that it was not until that moment that he realized that people cared and accepted him, flaws and all. That is perhaps the book's most valuable lesson--Cepeda paid for his mistakes, admitted he was wrong, and worked to get back the people's trust. While the ultimate reward for most people won't be the Hall of Fame or the cheers of thousands, it is a fitting prize for someone who has fallen on his face while the world watched and judged.
Cepeda has been covered in at least four other biographies--including three autobiographies--but Markusen's version is a no nonsense approach that tells a story well for a young audience that can benefit from the lessons Cepeda learned the hard way. I have read Markusen's other two books on this era of baseball history--The Great One and Baseball's Last Dynasty, which deal with Roberto Celente and the 1970s Oakland A's, respectively--and I would safely call this another success.