DODGER LEGENDS CEY, SCULLY, LASORDA IN '08
AFTER MORE than 40 years, the truth comes out. It was Bobo Brayton, not Tom Lasorda, who slapped “The Penguin” nickname on Ron Cey, the former Washington State and Los Angeles Dodgers star. “He (Lasorda) gets the credit for it, but the honor actually goes to Bobo,” Cey told Cougfan.com this week in a wide-ranging interview.
“The Penguin” moniker – an ode to Cey’s squat build and waddle-esque gait – remains one of the most enduring nicknames in the modern era of Major League Baseball. Utter the name to any self-respecting baseball fan over the age of 35 and there is no doubt what, or who, you’re talking about.
Baseball lore says Lasorda gave Cey the nickname in Spokane, where Lasorda managed the Dodgers’ AAA farm team that Cey played on in 1971.
Lasorda did call him The Penguin, Cey notes. But there's no question about it -- Brayton was the creator several years earlier.
Time has clouded Cey’s recollection of the exact moment Brayton christened him but it was at the old Bailey Field, he believes during the five days of fall ball his freshman year.
“I remember thinking," Cey recalled by phone on Tuesday from his home in southern California, ‘Well, OK, I guess we’ll see where this goes'.”
A long way, it turns out.
After leaving WSU, Cey went on to star in four World Series’ and win co-MVP honors for his work in the 1981 classic. He played in six All-Star games, and belted more than 300 career home runs. Along with Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Bill Russell, he also was part of the longest-running infield in baseball history.
And two words bring it all together: The Penguin.
Cey, Brayton and roughly 50 other Cougar greats will be catching up on it all in Bellevue on March 31 at an unprecedented, star-studded alumni dinner being pulled together by WSU baseball coach Donnie Marbut. John Olerud will be the keynote speaker and new athletic director Bill Moos will be on hand. Cougar fans are invited. To secure your spot, contact Michael Clark at WSU-West (206-770-6065 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
FRESHMEN WEREN’T ALLOWED to play on the varsity in the 1960s, but Cey’s sophomore season of 1968 was one to remember. “We only played 38 games that season – unlike the Florida, Arizona and California schools, which were playing 85 or 90 – but we won 29 of them and were ranked as high as No. 8 in the nation at one point,” he said.
During the Cougars' swing through California, Stanford was rated No. 1 in the country and USC was No. 2. Cey hit a homer in the ninth inning to beat Stanford in a one-game series, and at USC –- also a one-game series -- the contest went to 13 innings before the Trojans hit “what was basically a pop fly home run – 250 feet” to the short porch in right field to win it.
The Cougs would split with USC when the Trojans came north.
It was a great season. But not great enough. In those days, college baseball was like college basketball -- only the league champion advanced to the post-season.
“Washington State's program was running on high. Outside of California, we were the best -- or certainly one of the best -- in the West,” Cey said. “But there were no regionals back then. It was the same in basketball -- the tournament started on day one with a Sweet 16. The winner of the Pac-8 went to the College World Series and everyone else was left out. USC did wind up winning the whole thing that season.”
Cey, who came to WSU from Tacoma’s Mt. Tahoma High, was drafted in the third round by the Dodgers at the conclusion of that 1968 season. “Bobo tried to talk me out of signing – he felt I could use one more year to really work on some things, but I felt my time at WSU had prepared me, on and off the field, to start pursuing my childhood dream.”
CEY AND HIS WIFE FRAN HAVE TWO CHILDREN WHO ARE NOW GROWN.|
And contrary to another popular tale that made the rounds back in the day, Bobo never suggested to Cey that he didn't have Major League potential, said Cey, who is a member of WSU's Athletics Hall of Fame.
At age 23, three years after departing Pullman, he made his Dodgers debut and three years after that he was playing in his first All-Star game and first World Series.
Cey, who turned 62 a month ago, spent 17 seasons in the Majors. After retiring in 1987, he became “Mr. Mom for eight years” before rejoining the Dodgers – where he remains today – in a marketing and community outreach role.
Cey has kept in contact with Brayton over the years and hasn't missed a Cougar basketball game in the Pac-10 tournament in a long while, but he hasn't been back to Pullman in close to 20 years. Bellevue isn't exactly Palouse Country, but on March 31 it will be the next-best thing. "I'm really looking forward to coming up -- I think it's going to be a special event."