Every year since 2014, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum hands out their special “Hall of Game” Award to former MLB player, who, in the Museum’s minds, exhibited the same “passion, determination, skill and flair” as Negro League players.
Two former Cardinals have already received the award: Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith. Now, another former Cardinal, and a teammate of Brock, will receive the award.
The 1967 National League MVP, Orlando Cepeda.
Other members of the Hall of Game class include Andre Dawson, Tony Oliva, and Tim Raines.
In addition to the inductees, Major League Baseball Players Association executive Tony Clark is set to receive the Jackie Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award.
According to Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick, Cepeda, 78, is a “legacy inductee” because of the fact his father had played against Negro League players while in Puerto Rico. But Cepeda isn’t the only member of the Hall of Game class of 2016 to have ties with Puerto Rico. Oliva, nicknamed “Tony O” spent 15 seasons with the Minnesota Twins during his career.
“We just certainly believe he (Oliva) should be in the (National) Hall of Fame,” Kendrick said. “It’s an opportunity to again pay tribute to that cultural bond that was shared between the Negro Leagues and Spanish-speaking countries, but also to recognize a guy who we believe should be in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, so we kind of killed two birds with one stone.”
Dawson, who is already a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, shared similar skills during his 21-year long career.
“He was an athlete that could have played anything,” Kendrick said. “He just happened to play baseball. And that really was kind of the athlete that played in the Negro Leagues. Most of these guys would have excelled in any sport.”
Raines, nicknamed “Rock”, broke the rookie record in steals with 71 in 1981, and had the style and flair many players in the Negro Leagues possessed during their time.
“He did so many things that statistics don’t always bring to the forefront,” Kendrick said. “What he did defensively, what he did on the bases, how he got in the minds of opposing pitchers when he got on base. … He had that swagger. He is a perfect choice.”
Cepeda was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 by the Veteran’s Committee, joining Roberto Clemente as the only two Puerto Ricans in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
He spent 17 years in the Major League’s, winning the National League MVP in 1967, the year the Cardinals won the World Series. He hit a career 379 home runs, .297 batting average, and 1,365 RBI’s. During his three seasons in St. Louis, Cepeda hit 58 home runs, 469 total hits, 242 RBI’s (with 111 coming during the 1967 season alone), and had a batting average of .290. He also became the first Puerto Rican to start in an All-Star Game.
The Hall of Game induction ceremony, which all five honorees are scheduled to be in attendance, is June 11 at 8 p.m. at the Gem Theater.