Today is Ron Cey’s birthday. I know everyone is obsessing about 2022 Topps right now (or which card is Wander Franco’s rookie card), but really there is only one thing that matters on Feb. 15: The Penguin’s birthday.
He is 74 this year, which is significant because the ’74 Topps card was his first solo card and what a card it is.
But where does it rank among all of the major-issue cards released during Cey’s career?
Yes, we are here. I am going to rate all of Cey’s cards from 1974-87, every major issue from Topps, Donruss and Fleer. No Kellogg’s or Hostess, no stickers or ’80s Fleer minis, no fold-outs and other oddballs. I do have that stuff, of course. He’s my favorite player by far. But I do not have all day.
Oh, I’ll throw in the Traded cards here, too.
That brings me to a nice, round 30 cards to rank. I suppose everyone thinks they know what card is going to be ranked first. Maybe they’re right. Maybe. We’ll have to see, won’t weeeeeeeee?
OK, let’s get started:
30. 1986 Topps
There is a lot of this kind of nonsense with Cey’s Cubs cards. I’m not necessarily ranking it at the bottom because he’s lacking a helmet or a hat, there are several of those Cey cards, a couple I actually like. But Cey looks a bit disheveled and sweaty here. He looks old. His jacket is zipped up too tight, it’s really unfit weather for picture-taking, especially picture-taking this close. Therefore it goes at the bottom of the stack.
29. 1987 Fleer
Where to begin? I’ll start with the Cubs-ness. The ’80s jammy-jam pullovers with the pinstripe bottoms are not worthy wear for The Penguin. Cey’s clipped ’80s hair always makes me a bit sad. Fleer has cropped the hell out of this card, especially his missing right hand. Show me the ball! He also looks like he’s throwing to his grandson. Unfortunate card.
28. 1986 Fleer
Fleer’s gone a bit wild with the cropping again. Cey looks like he’s losing his balance and going to fall over just because the photo’s cut off most of his legs. The photo is not clear and then there’s that look of concern on Cey’s face because I think he just hit the ball into his team’s dugout.
27. 1987 Topps
I promise you not all the Cubs cards are at the bottom. Just most of them. This could have been a fitting career-capper card for Cey, The Penguin walking off the field for the final time. But Cey does not really look pleased or even satisfied. He seems to have tossed away his helmet after failing to score a runner during a key rally. It’s a bit of an angry card … or maybe an irksome card. And it’s not even a career-capper. Cey would have one more card in the ’87 Traded set.
1986 1986 Donruss
I am not a Cey card completist. I honestly have little interest in Cey’s non-Dodger cards and this is one of the few main issue Cey cards I do not have. I am not looking to pick it up. I think I’ve made my thoughts on 1986 Donruss clear. The fact my favorite player is on the ’86 Donruss design is a little bothersome. Also, I do not associate the garbage-bag-under-the-uniform look with a ’70s slugger like Cey. That’s for pitchers and guys from the ’60s. The one-flap helmet deal THAT CLOSE is concerning, too.
25. 1984 Fleer
This card and the one after it are quite similar. Here, Cey appears to be attempting to run out a grounder to the left side, which, if you know why he was called The Penguin, is a bit hilarious.
24. 1984 Donruss
More opposite-field swinging. Except this seems more in line with Cey’s reputation, those balls need to get to the outfield on a fly.
23. 1985 Donruss
There’s actually a fair amount to like about this card, with the exception of the uniform he’s wearing. It’s 1985 Donruss, those black borders are a beauty. And batting cage shots are one of the very best baseball card photo templates. The problem is I’d prefer that it was not such a close-up shot. I’d like to get a better idea of Cey At Work.
22. 1983 Topps Traded
An extraordinarily sad / enraging card as Cey was jettisoned from my Dodgers into mediocrity for the rest of his career. Speaking of mediocre: the ’83 design is at its best when the main photo shows the player in action at a distance, to best contrast with the head shot. This action photo is not very action-y.
21. 1985 Fleer
Of all of Cey’s Cubs non-action cards, this is my favorite. You can still see a hint of the garbage-bag wearing, but it’s well-hidden and easily overlooked by Cey’s sunny smile. He looks like he’s ready to play a ballgame and damn pleased about it.
20. 1981 Fleer
The first Dodger card on this list. This is probably one of Cey’s more famous cards for those obsessed with card “errors,” with the “finger” variation on the back. But as a whole it’s merely 20th-best. I’ve always been confused by what Cey is doing here. I think he’s looking for a sign, but at first glance he seems disgusted after a foul ball. My difficulty in interpreting the photo is a factor.
19. 1987 Topps Traded
As strange as it is to see Cey in an Oakland A’s uniform – I do not recall a single at-bat of Cey’s Oakland career, probably never even saw one – it’s an appropriate send-off for a player at the end of their career.
18. 1982 Topps
This was the final Topps card issued by Cey when he was actually still a Dodger (his ’83 Topps card came out after he had already been sent to the Cubs). I was a bit down on Cey’s early ’80s Topps cards, not considering them as good as his’ 70s cards. Cey’s on-deck warm-up ritual is fine but the backdrop is so boring. A lot of 1982 Topps cards are notably hazy and this is one of them. But I do like that prominent and familiar Cey signature, it really stands out against the muted background.
17. 1981 Topps
Here is another early ’80s Topps Cey card that did not excite me when I first pulled it – other than it being Cey’s card, of course. I will always like at-the-plate shots and there’s a nice look at the Dodgers All-Star patch on his sleeve. But its a pretty static photo. Fine enough. Just not as exciting as some of his other cards.
16. 1985 Topps
This is better. The Penguin Booking Out Of The Box! Oh, that one has gone a long way! This is not even the best card of Cey from this angle – in fact I think Topps liked its 1984 card of Cey that it tried to duplicate it.
15. 1983 Donruss
This is the final Cey at-bat shot while he was a Dodger, I always respected this card because of that. I also like the helmet pulled low over his face, like he’s really zoned in on the pitch.
14. 1983 Fleer
I’ve projected a bit with this card from the time it came out as I knew he had been traded by then and I considered Cey here as packing up his bats and heading out of Dodgers Stadium or Vero Beach or whatever. One glance backward at the splendor.
13. 1982 Donruss
There are not a lot of fielding shots for Cey, which is why I like this card. I liked it from the moment I pulled it from a pack – Whoa! Cey is fielding!
12. 1982 Topps In Action
This is similar to the 1985 Topps card of Cey, except in the more-appropriate Dodgers uniform (with Rick Monday in the background). It’s definitely In Action. It suffers a bit from the 1982 haziness, but I like it and am really glad he was chosen for Topps’ In Action series this year.
11. 1982 Fleer
The photo featured on Cey’s 1982 Fleer card is an old one. I discovered that not too long ago, I think it appeared in a late ’70s baseball magazine or something. It’s still a really nice card, a clear photo of Cey in Dodger Stadium wearing that crisp white LA uniform. The blue border, 1982 Fleer did this so well, helps, too. Wish I could’ve gotten it into the Top 10.
A little bit of foreshadowing here with Cey standing in Wrigley Field. I like the old-school pose and all the fans in the stands, and the No. 10 apparent on Cey’s bat even as he blocks the 10 on his uniform.
9. 1979 Topps
I could see reasons for making this No. 1. Cey is in action at the plate, actually in mid-swing (or perhaps checking his swing). There are no cut-off limbs. The NBC camera is an exciting addition that I never noticed when I was collecting ’79 Topps. That means this photo was taken at the very least during an NBC Game of the Week.
8. 1978 Topps
Every time I view this card I am in 7th grade music class. Not necessarily a wonderful memory – that was an awkward class – but cards that transport you to childhood are my very favorite. I do also recall not being all that enamored with this card when I first saw it. No action, a little too close. But those All-Star badges were fantastic from the very start and so much pride felt when your favorite player had one of those badges. Topps tended to use close-ups in the ’70s to signify greatness so I appreciate that. But I think we could’ve seen more with a little more distance.
7. 1977 Topps
What a year. The Dodgers went to the World Series, I pulled Cey’s card earlier than I had ever done before and the card looked like THIS! His most action-oriented card since the ’74 card, which I did not see until years later. Cey might be a little bit too far forward in this photo for some, leaving a lot of empty space on the right, but that’s only because he’s flying down the baseline!
6. 1976 Topps
See, I have no problem with a hat-less Cey. This is one of the most interesting Cey cards to me. It’s colorful, exciting-without-being-action, displays the wonderful yellow All-Star logo, and I have no idea what is happening here. Why does Cey look like he pulled off one of the railings behind him to use for a bat? Where is he going with that thing? And if he’s about to hit, where is his hat? Did he just knock it off with that railing bat in a rage? I should be puzzled but I’m more intrigued and have been for 45 years.
5. 1974 Topps
There is no question that if I saw this card in 1974, it would be one of my instant favorites and it would be hard to knock it off its pedestal even to this day. It’s terrific, featuring Cey with the biggest cut of his entire baseball-card career. You can see everything, except that might be a 24-foot bat, we do not know. The shadow over his face is a bit of a drawback but that was everywhere on card in the ’70s and I never noticed. In fact I kind of preferred that I could not see them (see: 1975 Topps Rollie Fingers).
4. 1984 Topps
This is honestly one of the best cards in the entire 1984 Topps set. Cey (with Leon Durham in the background this time) is in full action, looks as young as he was 10 years prior and the Cey head down in the lower corner seems to be turning toward the photo in admiration. I like to joke a lot about the lies the card companies told about Cey playing for the Cubs – because he never did – but it’s difficult to ignore this card.
3. 1980 Topps
That thing I said about Cey’s 1985 Donruss card, this is a much better display of a batting cage shot. I liked this card a lot, my only complaint was the Steve Garvey card in the set looked very much the same, except Garvey had to get all fancy with his All-Star banner.
2. 1983 Topps
Topps’ Cey-Dodger finale is among the very best Cey cards. As I said, there are so few Cey fielding cards and this is my favorite one. It’s a great example of why I like the ’83 Topps set so much with the contrast between the two photos. I’ve always liked the blue-green border colors for the Dodgers this year (mostly because it wasn’t pink).
But you now know there will be no surprise:
1. 1975 Topps
Maybe too much history with me and this card for it not to be No. 1. But if it looked something like 1981 Fleer, say, I think you’d see 1983 Topps in the No. 1 position. This was closer than you might think.
In the end, the composition of this card, the blue-yellow-red of the border and the blue-yellow-red of the background, the All-Star logo, Cey’s long hair, bright blue helmet and Snidely Whiplash stare is much too much to ignore.
Quite frankly, I do not know if Cey would be my favorite player if this card did not exist. I am very fortunate that I started collecting in 1975.
I hope he is enjoying his 74th birthday.
Next year it will be No. 75 and that matches up with – guess, what? 1975!
You’ll be as sick of this card as I am everything 1987 Topps if you aren’t already.