Monday, February 15, 2010

Cardboard appreciation: 1974 Topps Ron Cey

(One winter when I was a kid, we got a calendar of February from McDonald's. Each week of the month you went to McDonald's and got something cool. I have no memory of what "something" was -- probably a free shake or fries. But to this day, whenever February hits, I think of McDonald's and that calendar. Kids get a kick out of the simplest things. As a parent, I can appreciate that. Here is Cardboard Appreciation, the 52nd in a series):

Today is not only the first day of the Million Card Giveaway (still nothing on the site as of 3:23 a.m. eastern time), it is also the birthday of my most favorite player of all-time.

Today is Ron Cey's 62nd birthday. Yes, Ron Cey is 62 years old. That blows my ever-aging mind.

It seems mere years ago when Cey was diving into foul territory to catch Bobby Murcer's bunt and then throwing to first base to double off Larry Milbourne in the eighth inning of a one-run game in Game 3 of the 1981 World Series. Cey's performance in that series was confirmation on a national stage of why he was my favorite player.

But I thought I'd go back to the very beginning and try to determine why Cey became my favorite player.

The first card of Cey that I saw was his 1975 Topps card. It's my favorite card ever. That card features several reasons why I liked Cey. The All-Star red and yellow border, the intensity on Cey's face.

Cey also displayed several characteristics that I was drawn to as a kid. First, he had a mustache. I thought players with mustaches and longish hair were cool. I have no idea why. My father didn't have a mustache or long hair. None of his friends did.

I also liked third basemen. I was attracted to a position that wasn't necessarily high profile, like shortstop or pitcher, but still featured a lot of action.

Finally, I liked "second bananas." The star of those Dodger teams of the '70s was Steve Garvey. But Gavey was too slick for me. I gravitated toward the standouts who didn't get as much attention. I liked Cey and Reggie Smith.

So Cey had it all, the hair, the position, the second-banana status. And he was a damn fine player.

But one thing clinched it all for me. It was the 1974 Topps card. I have no idea where or when I first saw it. But I thought it was the coolest card I had ever witnessed. I don't know what Cey is doing in that photo. He's either just hit a towering home run, flied out or fouled a ball into the bleachers. But he looks amazing doing it. That is Penguin-style flair right there.

It's funny how much a baseball card will shape the way you think for the rest of your life. I bet you all have stories on what made you choose a favorite player when you were a kid. Some probably have to do with a baseball card.

A couple of months ago, I said I'd send this 1974 card to Cey to get it signed. I never did. Stuff got in the way. I still plan to do so. Maybe when I do, I'll mention that this card made me a fan of his even 35 years after I saw this card for the first time.

Happy birthday, Ron. Thanks for always making me proud to be a fan of yours.


  1. Night Owl,
    Great Article.

    I had the good fortune of meeting Ron Cey a few times though the first time was the most memorable to me.

    It was at one of my younger brother's high school baseball games. My brother's team was playing against the high school team Ron Cey's son Daniel played on.

    I didn't want to take up too much of Ron's time since his son was playing so all I did was introduce myself and say that I grew up following the Dodgers and was a big fan of his. Then I thanked him for the memories he provided.

    If I meet him again, I'd like to ask him why his son retired from baseball so soon. Dan was a second round pick of the Twins and retired a few weeks into his second season as AAA at only 24 years old (he hit .295 with 11 HR's as a second baseman in his first year at AAA).

    Here's a link to Dan's minor league stats.

  2. There were some great cards in that 1974 set. That set doesn't get many mentions when people talk about favorite sets of the 1970s, but it's a nice set.