SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — When the Boston Red Sox called Orlando Cepeda in December 1972 to inquire whether he would like to be their first designated hitter, the unemployed, future Hall of Famer signed up immediately.
"Boston called and asked me if I was interested in being the DH, and I said yes," Cepeda recalled Wednesday, attending the series finale between the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. "The DH got me to the Hall of Fame. The rule got me to the Hall of Fame."
He just had no idea exactly what he would be doing in the new gig out East. The experiment worked out beautifully for Cepeda, who played in 142 games that season — the second-to-last in a decorated 17-year major league career. The Athletics had released Cepeda only months after acquiring him from Atlanta on June 29, 1972.
The DH is 40 years old this season, and Cepeda is headed to Boston next month to help celebrate the anniversary. He will be recognized at Fenway Park on May 8. The Red Sox are flying him cross country for the ceremony. They had invited him for their first home series of the season but his former Giants franchise was honoring the reigning World Series champions at the same time.
"It means a lot," Cepeda said. "Amazing. When you think everything's finished, it's only the beginning." He recently attended the Hollywood red carpet opening of the movie '42,' about Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier.
Cepeda was the first major league player signed expressly to be a designated hitter, according to the Red Sox.
"I didn't know anything about the DH," Cepeda said.
The 75-year-old Puerto Rican star nicknamed "Baby Bull" also will visit Boston-area hospitals to support victims of the marathon bombings, though he hopes many will have made great improvements by then.
"Whatever they need me to do, I will do," Cepeda said, acknowledging perhaps he could brighten someone's day or bring on a smile.
Cepeda said then-A's owner Charlie Finley sent him a telegram to call him within a 24-hour period or he would be released. Cepeda didn't meet the deadline. He played in just three games for Oakland after the A's traded for him on June 29, 1972, for pitcher Denny McLain — who happens to be the majors' last 30-game winner. Cepeda was placed on the disabled list with a left knee injury, and both of his knees would bother him for the remainder of his career. He underwent 10 surgeries in all on the knees, sidelining him four different years.
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