With baseball just around the corner I thought the Penguin Place Post should feature our favorite baseball playing penguin of all time. Former Dodger 3rd baseman, Ron “The Penguin” Cey.
It’s March 1973 and a young, stocky, power-hitting third baseman nicknamed “The Penguin” is trying to make it to the big leagues with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His name is Ron Cey and little did the baseball world know then that he would go on to play in the big leagues for fourteen years, while becoming one of the premier players of his generation, not to mention an inspiration to stocky guys everywhere.
At five foot nine and 185 pounds, Ron was first called “The Penguin” by his college coach, Chuck Brayton, at Washington State University, not just because of his size, and short legs, but his distinct running style that could only be described as, well… penguin-like. The name stuck, and Ron became affectionately known as “The Penguin” to teammates, broadcasters and fans alike.
In the 70′s and early 80′s, Ron Cey was the slugging, all-star third baseman for some great Dodgers teams that won three pennants and one world championship. He was also an integral part of the 1984 division-winning Cubs and became a well-respected and popular, nationally recognized player in an era that pre-dated ESPN, the internet, mega-buck commercial endorsement deals and the huge sports merchandising industry. A six-time MLB all-star, in his day Ron was as well-known as any player in the National League. Of course part of his fame was due to talent, but some of it obviously had to do with his fabulous nickname. “The Penguin” had himself a devoted fan club and following, and of course it goes without saying that over the years Ron acquired his own penguin collection, much of which were gifts from teammates, friends and fans. In 1980, in one of the most unique sports ad campaigns of all time Nike had Ron pose wearing a tuxedo and a pair of Nike’s with a group of ten Blackfoot penguins in the snow. This poster, which has become quite a collectors item for baseball and penguin fans alike simply reads in giant letters across the bottom, “Penguin Power.” I’m lucky enough to have one.
When the Penguin Post asked Ron a few years back what it was like posing with the real penguins, he claimed to have “enjoyed it very much”. I also asked if he thought being a ball player and having “The Penguin” as a nickname diminished his status as an athlete in the eyes of his teammates, fans and the media. Ron’s reply was a resounding, “No! Not at all!” He said emphatically. “Not every player has a nickname, it’s a honor to get one that sticks as very few have nicknames last 17 major league seasons, and even into the present day. To me, that is status.” I couldn’t agree more, you have to be a very special player to have a nickname that sticks for decades, and ” The Penguin” certainly has earned one.
When Ron “The Penguin” Cey retired from baseball in 1987 he was at that time the all-time Los Angeles Dodger home run leader with 228, to go along with his 316 career home runs, 1,139 RBI and a .261 lifetime average. I asked him for his fondest baseball memory (as it pertains to penguins, of course), and he said, “the smiles on young fans’ faces asking me for autographs while calling me Penguin.” I then asked if I could call him “The Penguin?” “All my friends do”, he replied. With that I smiled and thanked Ron “The Penguin” Cey for his time.
Ron is still known as the Penguin and lives in California.