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Spokane Indians

‘Penguin Power’: Baseball great Ron Cey visits Spokane with book signing before Spokane Indians game

Ron Cey is a busy guy. Maybe not quite as busy as he was when he was part of “the best infield in baseball,” but at 76, the man affectionately known as “Penguin” during his playing days isn’t slowing down.

Cey, who played third base in the big leagues for 17 seasons for three organizations – most notably the Los Angeles Dodgers – will be in Spokane on Friday as part of a tour promoting his book, “Penguin Power.” He will sign copies of the book and visit with fans at Avista Stadium before the Indians’ game against Tri-City that evening.

He likes meeting fans at his book signings.

“I enjoy the fact that they are interested in something that I did – that they enjoyed my stories,” Cey said. “And I get to hear about their stories about me when I was coming up or that really enjoyed my career. It’s great feedback. It’s nice to be out here doing that. I have to stay visible at this age. I’ve got some things I’m trying to get done. I’m having fun with it.”

It’s a “full-circle” kind of moment for Cey, who grew up in Tacoma and played two years at Washington State, where he earned his colorful nickname. He started his pro career with Tri-City and enjoyed one of the greatest individual seasons in Spokane Indians history in 1971.

“Playing at Washington State and in Spokane, I had a pretty good backing, a good following there.”

That season, as a 23-year-old in Triple-A, Cey hit .328 with a .400 on-base percentage with 32 home runs and 123 RBIs in 137 games – a Pacific Coast League record at the time.

“I was coming off a year where I had been injured,” he said. “(Manager Tommy) Lasorda knew who I was. I was one of ‘his guys.’ He didn’t care how well you played at spring training, ‘You’re my guy,’ he would say. I felt comfortable going into spring training knowing my place was set.”

Cey was one of three dominant players for Spokane that season, although the Indians finished with a losing record. Tom Hutton hit .352 with 19 homers and Tom Paciorek hit .306 with 15 homers. All three had more than 100 RBIs for the season.

“Spokane was the launching point,” Cey said. “We had a lot of terrific players. There were a lot of great Dodgers that made their way to the big leagues through Spokane. I have lots of fond memories of that park.”

At one time he won a fan vote as the best player in Spokane baseball history.

“I have a lot of relatives in Spokane,” he said. “I must have gotten a boost that way.”

He made his MLB debut at the end of that season, in the same week he got married.

“Sept. 2 and Sept. 11 are the two biggest days in my life,” he said.

Cey went back to Triple-A the next season, but his call up at the end of ’72 began his career in earnest.

Once entrenched at the “hot corner” for the Dodgers, Cey stayed there for 12 years, earning six trips to the All-Star Game and four times receiving MVP votes. He was named World Series MVP in 1981 as the Dodgers beat the Yankees in six games.

Cey spent five seasons with the Chicago Cubs, where he met a young second baseman from Spokane named Ryne Sandberg, before culminating his illustrious career with the Oakland A’s. Cey was at the unveiling of a statue commemorating hall of famer Sandberg at Wrigley Field last month.

“He was my second baseman in Chicago,” he said. “He was just a young guy back then and I was the veteran. We got to know each other very well.”

After his playing career, Cey was a longtime coach and ambassador for the Dodgers’ organization. But several years ago, after his coaching days were over, Cey was looking for what to do in the next chapter in his life. The book deal came first. After his first co-writer dropped out of the project due to health issues, Cey teamed up with longtime Dodgers beat writer Ken Gurnick to co-author his autobiography.

“It’s been about 40 years of prodding,” Cey said. “I hadn’t really been interested in a book. I wasn’t sure I had a story to tell – that people would be interested in what I had to say. There’s so much social media these days, all you have to do is ‘Google’ me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get in there and expose the rest of it.”

Cey said having grandchildren made him contemplate leaving a memoir for posterity.

“I finally decided I do have a story to tell. I have lots of stories to tell.”

Once the book was put into production, Cey ventured into modern communication – he started a podcast.

We’ll See About That – The Ron Cey Show” bills itself as “real talk, real sports.” Cey and his co-host Mike Garey discuss the sports and entertainment topics of the day with guests from both industries. It’s produced by CRN Talk Digital Radio and available on Apple, Amazon, Google, Spotify and Roku.

“It’s an eclectic show,” Cey said. “All kinds of different subject matter. I find it extremely interesting.”

Cey is even on Instagram at @theofficialroncey.

“You’ve got to self-promote,” he said. “You gotta get out there and pretty much push it on your own.”

Much like the book, podcasting is about expanding personal boundaries for the ex-ballplayer.

“It wasn’t by design,” he said. “I was wondering what I should be doing next. If you had told me five years ago when my priority was working with the Dodgers year-round … I had no expertise in radio. I was now going to be behind the mic instead of in front. It took awhile to make an adjustment. … The real benefit to me is I get to hear from a lot of people about their experiences and share their views and thoughts. It’s all been helpful and beneficial to me.”