The Dodgers of My Youth- That Infield
As a child of the ’70s they were a fixture that I relied upon. For 8.5 seasons they were a unit.
It never occurred to me that this unit would one day be separated. Back to that in a moment.
In those days I lived and breathed baseball. I knew every single player on the Dodgers. I knew their position, their batting averages and more. I loved to play that game.
I was an outfielder and truth be told Dusty Baker and Reggie Smith were the guys I looked up to more than the infield in large part because I thought that the outfield was just cooler than playing first or second.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I liked The Penguin, Ron Cey. I liked him because he was a Dodger. As a young and impressionable boy just being a member of the team was enough to impress me, but in Cey’s case there was a little more to it.
About 30 years or so ago he was one of a number of players who made an appearance at a local bank to sign autographs and press the flesh. I have strong memories of him and Bill Buckner taking the time to speak with me. They could have just signed the picture and told me to move on, but they didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, they didn’t spend a ton of time speaking with me but enough to make a lasting impression. Every now and then I think about telling The Penguin about that day at the bank.
You see for the last 15 years or so I have seen Ron Cey weekly at my gym. I pass by him in the locker room, wander by in the showers or see him entering or leaving the building. And in all that time I don’t think that we have said more than the occasional hello.
In part that is because I respect his privacy. I never wanted to be a pesky fan and from time to time I have seen him patiently answer questions from others. In part it is also because I think that it might be odd to walk up to him dressed in nothing more than a towel and start flinging questions his direction.
Now I know there are at least two other Dodger fans that read this blog. You might be interested to know that Tom Niedenfuer goes to the same gym. We tried rattling him at the free throw line with a few choice comments.
But back to Cey. Maybe it is just because I am a five-year-old trapped in a man’s body, maybe it is because I am a father now or maybe it is just because so many athletes appear to be jerks now but I am more appreciative now of that little gesture from so many years ago.
I suppose that I could write more about those days. I suppose that I could share the frustration of watching Reggie shellack the hell out of the Dodgers in the ’77 series, or the excitement of watching a rookie Bob Welch strike him out a year later. Instead I’d like to share a short blurb about my Dodgers.
“The Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1970s were a team of winners. Three National League pennants and three appearances in the World Series (1974, 1977 and 1978) along with 910 victories (second-best decade in Dodger history) are certainly enough credentials for a successful decade.
Peter O’Malley was named club president on March 17, 1970 and his father, Walter O’Malley, assumed the position of Chairman of the Board.
In the 1970s, no Dodger team ever finished lower than third. In 1971, the Dodgers finished just one game behind division winner San Francisco. But in 1974, the Dodgers reached the top, winning the division and posting 102 victories, the most by a Dodger team since 1962. The Dodgers defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates in the League Championship Series, three games to one, to earn a trip to the Fall Classic for the first time in eight years.
After 23 years, Hall of Fame Manager Walter Alston retired and handed over the reins to Tommy Lasorda, who became only the second National League manager to win pennants in his first two seasons (1977 and 1978). The results were carbon copies as his teams in 1977 and 1978 defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in the League Championship Series in four games, only to lose to the New York Yankees in the World Series in six games.
During this era, the Dodgers had an infield featuring first baseman Steve Garvey, second baseman Davey Lopes, shortstop Bill Russell and third baseman Ron Cey. The foursome began playing as a unit in 1973 and would spend a record 8 1/2 seasons together.
In 1977, the Dodgers made history when four members of the team hit 30 or more home runs: Steve Garvey (33), Reggie Smith (32), Ron Cey (30) and Dusty Baker (30). Behind the plate, catcher Steve Yeager was the picture of durability. One of the best Dodger catchers in history, Yeager played 14 seasons with the ballclub and was a tri-World Series MVP in 1981.“
Free agency hadn’t wrecked loyalty to team and town and I could count on spending hours playing Pickle, riding my bike around the Valley and a freedom from worry that I gave up when my kids were born.
You see, part of why I like looking at this picture and reading these words is that it gives me a brief moment to look back at a very happy childhood.
Life was good.
I don’t think that we’ll ever see an infield like that again. We probably won’t ever see that many players stay in one place for so long either. But I suppose that change is part of life. Nothing stays the same.