SCOUT: Hey! I found ya a live one!
GM: Really? What's he like?
SCOUT: Well, this kid can really hit! Got great power, great batspeed! And he's doing it all even though he's only 5-10, 185, and, well...
GM: Well, what?
SCOUT: Well, he runs like a penguin. Damndest thing I've ever seen...
Can you imagine that scene in a general manager's office today? A scout trying to sell a GM on a prospect with that height and weight (full disclosure: 5-10, 185 describes ME pretty accurately), and running like... a PENGUIN? There's no way a kid like that would ever be drafted in baseball today.
And yet, that describes Ron Cey, who spent most of his career with the Dodgers, but was acquired by the Cubs' then-GM, Dallas Green, when he was seen as done, over-the-hill, washed-up, and he put together three decent seasons and was one of the key parts of the Cubs' 1984 NL East championship team.
Ronald Charles Cey was born in Tacoma, Washington, on February 15, 1948, grew up there and attended his home-state university, the U. of Washington, from which he was drafted in the third round by the Dodgers in 1968. By 1971 he had reached Triple-A Spokane, where he played along with some other future Dodgers who would become the backbone of LA's championship teams of the 1970's and early 1980's: Joe Ferguson and Davey Lopes, as well as spare parts Tom Paciorek, Von Joshua and Bobby Valentine.
He made the major leagues for brief callups in 1971 and 1972, and in 1973 was installed as the Dodgers' third baseman, replacing Steve Garvey, who shifted over to first base. He proved a patient hitter, drawing 74 or more walks in each of his first seven seasons, and his power steadily increased, going from 15 HR in his rookie season (he finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting), to 18, then 25, and finally his first thirty-homer season in 1977 -- the famous season in which four Dodgers hit 30 or more HR (Garvey, Reggie Smith, and Dusty Baker the others, Baker having to homer on the last day of the season to complete the quartet).
Cey, Lopes, Garvey and shortstop Bill Russell comprised the Dodgers' starting infield from 1974 through 1981; the eight-season run of this complete infield is one of the longest, if not THE longest, in major league history. For comparison's sake, the Cubs' storied infield of Banks/Beckert/Kessinger/Santo spent five full seasons intact as infield mates (1965-1969), and earlier in Cub history, Frank Chance, John Evers, Joe Tinker and 3B Harry Steinfeldt also spent five full seasons as an intact infield (1906-1910).
Cey's Dodgers, like their predecessors in Brooklyn in the 1950's, kept making World Series (1974, 1977, 1978) and losing them, until finally winning a ring by defeating the Yankees in the 1981 World Series. The following year, with the Dodgers being the celebrated toasts of the baseball world, Cey decided to take a crack at movie acting; he appeared in a forgettable B-grade cop movie titled "Q: The Winged Serpent". The following off-season, he was traded to the Cubs; I do not believe the two events are related, but you never know.
Seriously, the Dodgers thought, at the age of 34, that Cey was done. But, the Cubs needed a third baseman -- 1982's 3B, a fellow named Sandberg, was ticketed to move to 2B following the departure of Bump Wills -- and so Cey was acquired on January 19, 1983, for pitcher Vance Lovelace, who was thought of as a decent prospect but never panned out, and minor leaguer Dan Cataline. The Dodgers blog Dodger Blues ranked it as one of the worst deals in LA Dodger history.
Cey wasn't washed up. He wasn't an All-Star any longer, but he put up three decent seasons for the Cubs, including two with 90+ RBI; in 1984, despite a .240 batting average, he drove in 97 runs and finished 17th in the MVP balloting, as the Cubs won the NL East title. Unfortunately, he vanished in the NLCS, going only 3-for-19.
After a poor 1985 season (.232/.316/.408), Cey was reduced to part-time duty in 1986, starting only 97 games at third base, while a motley selection of others (Manny Trillo, Chris Speier, Keith Moreland, and even Lopes, who had joined his former Dodger teammate with the Cubs by late '84, and who had only played five career games at 3B before the age of 40) started the rest of the games, and the following off-season was traded to the A's for utilityman Luis Quinones, played a handful of games in Oakland, mostly as a DH, and was then released.
In recent years Cey has done some community work for the Dodgers; last spring he did this web Q&A session with Dodger fans on the anticipated 25th anniversary reunion of the 1981 World Championship team.
I can't say that I have any specific great memories of seeing Cey play in person, though I know I was at this 1984 game where his grand slam helped beat the Giants 12-11, and his three-run HR provided all the runs in this 3-2 win over the Phillies; mostly, he was just there, quietly producing.
Ron Cey was like many other players in Cub history -- he had his best seasons elsewhere, yet made positive contributions as a Cub (his 84 HR, in only four seasons, rank 27th on the club all-time list), and he was a key part of a Cub division championship team.
And yes, his wife's name really is Fran. Say it out loud.