Orlando Cepeda is at bat with the bases jammed/Orlando Cepeda with a wham! bam!/He hit a grand slam/In the very first inning/But it’s only the beginning. — Danny Kaye, “The D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song”
While it won't get him onto a postage stamp, Orlando Cepeda was a baseball pioneer. “I was the first player who brought music to the clubhouse, in all of baseball,” he recalls. “They didn't allow music, and I was the first one; I carried in my record player.” He was also possibly the first player to have his own theme music blare around the ballpark when he stepped into the batter's box: “Well, they used to call me 'Cha-Cha,' because of the way I liked the music, so they used to play cha-cha for me.”
Cepeda, the San Francisco Giants' Rookie of the Year in 1958, the National League Most Valuable Player in 1967, and a Hall of Famer, is the son of Puerto Rican diamond legend Pedro “The Bull” Cepeda (which is why, even at age 70, Orlando is still referred to as “The Baby Bull”). Yet Pedro's brother, Rafael, may have been the most famous Cepeda on the island — he was Puerto Rico's No. 1 trumpet player. “I have to say music is in my genes,” Orlando says.
The musicians he's listening to now are often the same ones he was broadcasting to the Giants' clubhouse during their 1962 pennant-winning season, but many of the tunes are brand-new. Cepeda has stayed up-to-date, enjoying the 2007 releases of Latin legends like bandleader Eddie Palmieri, Cuban piano giants Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and top Puerto Rican group Sonora Ponceña. “Puerto Rico has the best salsa,” he says. “When I want to listen to some Puerto Rican salsa, I play Sonora Ponceña. They've been together 40 years and they're the best.” Tito Puente, meanwhile, has gone to the recording studio in the sky, but Cepeda claims to have listened to every one of Puente's 140-odd albums.
Cepeda isn't afraid to listen to musicians young enough to be his children or grandchildren. He's a huge fan of Latin-fusion jazz saxophonist David Sanchez: “He's a great sax player, and I just love him too. Every time he comes here, I check him out.” Cha-Cha, incidentally, is far from an unsung hero. Bay Area-raised jazz legend Cal Tjader penned “Viva Cepeda” in the player's rookie season nearly 50 years ago, and the tune has been covered by several other jazz bands. San Francisco pianist Rebeca Mauleón is also a huge fan, and recently recorded a song titled “Cepeda Forever.”
Cepeda far prefers Tjader and Mauleón's work to the Danny Kaye novelty number at the top of this article, by the way. Yes, he (wham! bam!) hit a grand slam in that tune — but the Dodgers won the ballgame.
For more top tens from Margaret Cho, Vanilla Ice, Scarface, and some other random B-listers go to All Shook Down