Dukes were launching pad for future LA star Cey - Albuquerque Journal

Dukes were launching pad for future LA star Cey

Ron Cey picked up some impressive titles over the course of his Major League Baseball career.

He was a World Series champion and co-MVP, a six-time National League All-Star and third baseman for a Los Angeles Dodgers infield that was arguably one of the best ever assembled.

Cey’s pro career effectively took off in Albuquerque, where he won respective Double-A and Triple-A championships in 1970 and ’72. He’ll be back in the Duke City on Saturday to be inducted into the Albuquerque Professional Baseball Hall of Fame prior to the Isotopes’ 6:35 p.m. game against Sugar Land.

But for all his on-field accomplishments, Cey might be best known for winning the nickname game.

Ron Cey is shown during his days playing minor league ball in Albuquerque. (Courtesy of the Albuquerque Isotopes)

When he joined the Dodgers for his first full big-league season in 1973, Cey’s given name was all but forgotten. Ron Cey was “The Penguin,” a moniker he came to embrace.

The nickname originated when Cey’s college baseball coach at Washington State, Chuck Brayton, determined that Cey’s unusual running gait resembled that of a penguin.

Tommy Lasorda, who managed Cey with the 1972 Dukes and later with the Dodgers, loved it.

“Lasorda kept it alive,” Cey said in a recent phone interview from his Southern California home. “I wasn’t too sure about it at first, but all my teammates started calling me, ‘Hey, Penguin.’ They never called me Ron.”

When Cey and the Dodgers became perennial playoff contenders, the nickname blew up. Network telecasts went so far as to run clips of actual penguins alongside those of Cey running the basepaths.

“It was everywhere,” Cey recalled, “but when kids in the stands started picking up on it I thought, ‘Hey, a whole new generation knows me because of this nickname.’ From that point on, I liked it.”

Cey brought more to the table than a disctinctive running style. Over 16 seasons with the Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Oakland A’s, he posted a .261 batting average with 316 home runs and 1,139 runs batted in.

The high point may have been 1981, when the Dodgers defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series and Cey was named co-MVP with teammates Steve Yeager and Pedro Guerrero.

“No question, a World Series championship was our primary goal,” Cey said. “We had All-Star-caliber players and that was the expectation from the organization and from ourselves. Being a World Series MVP, that’s any kid’s dream. I was very fortunate.”

It was part of a remarkable run for the Dodgers’ infield of Steve Garvey (1B), Davey Lopes (2B), Bill Russell (SS) and Cey (3B), which established a Major League record by playing together for 8½ seasons starting in 1973. The group won four National League pennants along the way, and its mark for longevity still stands.

For Garvey, Lopes and Cey, the path included stops in Albuquerque. Cey spent 13 games with the Double-A Albuquerque Dodgers in 1969, but things took off in 1970 when manager Del Crandall’s team went 83-52 and won a Texas League title.

Cey played for the Dodgers’ Triple-A club in Spokane in 1971 but returned the following season when Los Angeles made Albuquerque its Triple-A affiliate.

“The Sports Stadium was state of the art then,” Cey recalled, “lava rocks and a drive-in area in the outfield. People would honk their horns when we hit a home run. It was a lot of fun.”

Fans had plenty to honk about as Lasorda’s Dukes went 92-56 and won a Pacific Coast League crown. The team included Cey, Lopes, Yeager, Joe Ferguson, Tom Paciorek and 15 other players who would ultimately reach the majors.

“We were just young players trying to carve our way through the minor leagues,” Cey said, “but we all knew that was a very good team.”

Cey hit .331 and .329 in two full seasons in Albuquerque, leading the ’72 club in hits (163), home runs (23) and RBIs (103). He’s returned to the city several times since his playing career ended and spent part of one visit looking over photos and clips of local hall of famers at Isotopes Park. The Penguin successfully lobbied Isotopes GM John Traub to join the club.

“I’m probably one of the few guys to win Double-A and Triple-A championships there,” Cey said, “That’s where it kind of started for me and I have great memories of Albuquerque. I’m looking forward to coming back.”

Cey will be inducted along with another former Dukes star and World Series MVP, pitcher Dave Stewart, and Dukes logo creator Dick Moots.

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