Orlando Cepeda is a proud Puerto Rican who, before he injured his knee two years ago, played first base for the San Francisco Giants and played it well. In 1962, the last year the Giants won the National League pennant, he followed Willie Mays in the batting order and posed such a threat that pitchers thought twice before giving the best hitter in the major leagues an intentional pass. Cepeda's knee has healed completely now, but he no longer plays first base for the Giants. At the conclusion of last season Manager Herman Franks announced that Willie McCovey had, in Cepeda's absence, earned the position and Cepeda would have to find another place in the club's scheme of things. He was even rumored to be expendable—supposedly, the Giants spent the winter trying to trade him and his $50,000 salary.
But Cepeda, undismayed, used the time to run along the white-sand Caribbean beaches near his home in Puerto Rico, rebuilding the strength of his knee. He reported to spring training minus 18 of his customary 230 pounds, and the knee was, said the doctors, as good as new. Later, with a white towel draped over his shoulders and an outfielder's glove crammed in a hip pocket, Cepeda perspired freely following a workout at the Giants' camp in Phoenix and told of his determination to make up for everything his injury has cost him.
"Not being able to play last year, and hurting all the time, matured me," he said. "I am happy to be a Giant, and I want only to be a Giant. But I have come to play. If they are going to use me just as a pinch hitter then I would rather go home to Puerto Rico. I am convinced my knee is all right. I have put it to every test. The only time I think about it is when I am not playing. I have to be honest and say I would rather play first base, for that is where I am a better player. But if they say play left field, I will play my heart out there."
Left field is probably where Cepeda will play. Without him last year the Giants came within two games of the pennant, and this season, with Mays, McCovey, Jim Ray Hart and Cepeda in the lineup, Franks can expect something like 140 homers from those four hitters alone. That kind of power would go a long way to offset San Francisco's lack of consistent pitching, a club weakness ever since it moved into Candlestick Park.
Juan Marichal, with the high kick and the low fast ball, was 22-13 last year, though he slumped badly after the August bat-swinging incident with Dodger Catcher John Roseboro. Bob Shaw, the No. 2 starter and a determined holdout this spring, was 16-9 last year, but he needed help from the bullpen in all but six of his 33 starts.
The Giants are looking hopefully toward Dick Estelle and Joe Gibbon, a starter who may relieve, and Bobby Bolin (14-6), a reliever Franks wants to start. Bolin and Ron Herbel (12-9) were both outstanding in the pressure of last September, but Gaylord Perry (8-12), who had been counted on, had a bad second half. "Our left-handed pitching isn't good," admits Franks, "and it looks as if we'll be struggling in that department."
The presence of Lindy McDaniel, the right-handed reliever obtained from the Cubs, helps prop up a bullpen that last year depended heavily on Frank Linzy, who was 9-3 with 14 saves and a 1.43 ERA in his rookie season. Long, thin Bill Henry's left-handed pitches react so sharply in the Candlestick crosswinds that he is asking Franks for more chances to work on right-handed hitters. Tom Haller will do most of the catching again.
Third Baseman Jim Ray Hart boosted his average to .299 and his RBIs to 96, hit 23 home runs and is solid at third—provided his draft board doesn't award the position to Jim Davenport by default. McCovey took over first base early in the season and, by slugging 39 homers and driving in 92 runs, underlined the fact he hits steadily when he plays steadily. The Giants scuffled all winter to replace Dick Schofield, who hit only .209, at shortstop. When they failed, Schofield declared: "This team already has a pretty good shortstop. Me. I passed up a lot of good pitches trying to get walks in front of Mays and McCovey. This year I'll swing more—and hit more." At second base 23-year-old Hal Lanier captained the infield and fielded almost flawlessly, but he hit only .226. During the winter he spent a week at Shaw's home in Florida and had the big right-hander throwing to him. "Bob isn't much of a hitter," Lanier says, "but he has plenty of good ideas about how pitchers work on hitters." Shaw said Lanier worked "until his hands blistered."
Willie Mays will be 35 on May 6—every Giant fan should send him a huge, grateful birthday card—but center field is still all his. Mays is coming off another routine great year (.317, 52 homers, 112 RBIs, Most Valuable Player award), and since the only thing he needs is an occasional rest (he missed 11 games last season), the Giants picked up Outfielder Don Landrum from the Cubs to see that he gets it. If Cepeda survives in left, Len Gabrielson, who batted .301 in 88 games with San Francisco last year, will go to right and maybe platoon with Jesus Alou, who hit .298. Some outfield.
Cepeda's return could be a great big plus. Hart's expected draft call could be just as big a minus. Whatever happens, the Giants should continue to be a big team in the league, the team the pennant winner has to beat.