Hard to believe that Ron Cey turns 63 today. In my mind's eye, "The Penguin" will always be an amiable late-20s cat with shaggy dirty-blonde hair and matching moustache, forever waddling from home to first on a walk, ripping a liner into the left field stands, or scooping up grounders at first with far more grace and ease than you'd expect from a guy with his fireplug build.
Cey was my favorite player when I was a kid. I was living in Michigan with my Dad at the time (rooting for the Tigers), but spending summers in Los Angeles with my Mom, and so the Dodgers became my National League team. And much as I loved Mark Fidrych, Willie Horton, Gates Brown, Ron LeFlore and "Sweet Lou" Whitaker, "The Penguin" was my man. I loved him when he got the Dodgers off to their roaring start in 1977, setting an MLB record with 29 RBI in April; I loved him when he turned up in Chicago several years later, and — despite being "washed up" by then — helped lead the Cubs to the NL playoffs in 1984. Ron wasn't a superstar (though he did make the NL All-Star squad six years running), but he worked hard, always came to play, consistently put up strong numbers, and he had a reputation for being affable and down to earth with his fans, all of which made a profound impression upon me.
I specifically asked to wear #10 in little league, hoping that the magic of Ron's Dodger uniform number would somehow rub off on me. It didn't. But even though I never developed enough of an arm to play third base anywhere near as well as Ron Cey, I can safely say I'm the better singer. In 1976, Ron cut two "country" songs for a 7-inch single, "One Game at a Time" and "Playing the Third Base Bag," both of which were cringe-makingly awful from conception to execution. Not that Ron would disagree; asked about the single during an MLB.com chat about five years back, he answered with typical good humor, "It was done just for fun. It wasn't a ballad. Anyone who thought I was going to pursue a singing career... well, obviously I was not a candidate for 'American Idol.'"
But since some folks on the Big Hair & Plastic Grass Facebook page have expressed interest in Ron's brief recording career, well, I may as well share the wealth. (Credit where credit is due: I found the tracks and photo below a few years back on a blog called Penetrating Moments.) I believe a lesser-known member of the Campanis family had something to do with this, but the guilty parties are probably best forgotten at this point. If I had to guess, I'd say that someone with musical ambitions had access to some free studio time, and was using The Penguin's recording session as a chance to familiarize themselves with such basic studio techniques as overdubbing, double-tracking, etc. While it makes "Pennant Fever" by the '69 Cubs sound like "Bohemian Rhapsody," it's still good for an occasional giggle.
Happy Birthday, Penguin!