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Dodgers Dugout: Jackie Robinson has the right words; Ron Cey answers your questions

Jackie Robinson in 1971.
(Associated Press)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and sometimes a Dodgers newsletter feels out of place in times like this.

When I sit at home and watch everything that is happening in this country, it feels inadequate to write a Dodgers newsletter.

I have this fear of coming across like “Doesn’t he know what’s going on?” and this belief that a Dodgers newsletter can be a welcome distraction during times like this.

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But what to say?

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I try to keep politics out of Dodgers Dugout. Not because I don’t have beliefs, but because this is not the place for them. But sometimes, events become so overwhelming that not to mention them would seem ignorant.

So, while mourning the death of George Floyd, while watching peaceful protesters of all colors get tear-gassed and hit with rubber bullets, and while seeking the proper words, I came across a few quotes by Jackie Robinson that I find particularly relevant:

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“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”

“The right of every American to first-class citizenship is the most important issue of our time.”

“There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.”

“But as I write these words now I cannot stand and sing the national anthem. I have learned that I remain a black in a white world.”

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You have to wonder what Jackie Robinson would say today if he were alive.

Dodgers’ statement

The Dodgers released the following statement on Twitter:

“As we stood with Jackie Robinson to overcome the barrier of racism in our sport, we now stand with all Americans who will no longer tolerate the evils of racism and social injustice in our society. We must remain dedicated to the pursuit of freedom, equality and justice for all.”

Dave Roberts

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had some thoughts on the current situation:

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“I just think that it’s disappointing to see my generation and the generation prior failing the younger generation,” Roberts, 48 told The Times’ Jorge Castillo. “And that’s what’s really sad. You always hope for progress, but that just, unfortunately, isn’t the case.

“For me, the leaders of our country, unfortunately, aren’t good listeners and that’s how you impose change. People of color want to be heard. And when you have leaders that are put in positions to make change and don’t want to have those uncomfortable conversations then change isn’t going to happen. There’s a difference between being educated and being ignorant. You have to understand that these situations happen every single day to people of color.”

Roberts said his father, who died in March 2017 at age 68, instilled in him and his sister to be proud of who they are — the children of an African American man and Japanese woman — and where they come from.

He said he has passed those conversations down to his two children.

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“I hope and pray they’re happening in every household,” Roberts said. “But we’re in a position of authority because of our age — I’m talking about my generation and beyond. And to tell the younger generation, ‘This is how you do it and this is what needs to be done’ — how can we sit back and say this is what needs to be done when you look at the result of what we’re basically responsible for?

“So many times I hear people say, ‘I just want to get back to normalcy and get back to normal.’ Normal is not even close to good enough. And we all need to be better and demand better from ourselves as a country and as individuals.”

Meanwhile...

Bill Shaikin reports on continued negotiations to have some semblance of a season:

“On the day after the players pitched a 114-game season with prorated salaries, the owners considered a 50-game season under the same terms. The number of games halfway between 114 and 50 is 82 — the very number of games the owners pitched last week — but splitting the financial difference in half might not be so easy.

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“The union did agree Sunday to a radical realignment this season, in which the traditional divisional alignment would be scrapped, and whatever schedule is agreed to would be played completely in a geographic region. The Dodgers and Angels would play in a 10-team western division, along with the other teams in the National League West and American League West. An industry source confirmed the development, which was first reported Monday by the Boston Globe.

“The owners had not presented a 50-game proposal to the union or even committed to it among themselves as of late Monday, and they remain willing to consider other options, but the commissioner’s office believes it has the unilateral right to set the length of schedule so long as it pays players a prorated salary.”

Back to your humble host here: On Wednesday, Major League Baseball officially rejected the players’ offer for a 114-game regular season with no additional salary cuts and told the union it did not plan to make a counterproposal.

As for the owners’ proposal of a 50-game season? Might as well bag the whole thing and come back next season. What if someone hit .425 in 50 games, which is certainly possible in such a small sample size. Does he get the season record? What if a pitcher has an ERA of 0.65? Does he get the record for lowest ERA? Just forget it. Anything less than 80 games is not too meaningful.

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Bill Plaschke writes about what a huge mistake it would be for baseball not to come to an agreement here.

Former Dodger Tom Niedenfuer gives his thoughts here.

Ask Ron Cey

Through the next few weeks, Dodgers Dugout will expand its “Ask...” feature to include former Dodgers. Next up, legend Ron Cey.

Cey was one of the most underrated players in all of baseball in the 1970s and early 80s. A third baseman, he was a direct contemporary of the two best third basemen of all time, Mike Schmidt and George Brett, and as a result, he got lost in the shuffle. He had good power, drew a lot of walks and was an integral part of four Dodgers World Series teams, being named a World Series MVP in 1981. Nicknamed “Penguin” because of his distinctive gait, he remains one of the favorite Dodgers of all time.

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Cey answered selected questions from Dodgers Dugout readers. I want to thank Ron for taking the time to answer these questions and making this newsletter better.

Jim Eggers asks: I was wondering if you have any memories of your time with the Spokane Indians? I was a groundskeeper and “scoreboard boy” when you were playing there in 1971.

Cey: I’m from Tacoma and played collegiate baseball at Washington State. Playing in Spokane and living in a small community called Opportunity was a calling of sorts. I was having a big year, getting married in September and got my introduction to the major leagues all on that one year. Spokane was very very good to me.

Dave Kiffer of Ketchikan, Alaska, asks: What was your first thought when Coach Brayton called you “The Penguin”?

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Cey: I had a nickname in high school from football, “Scooter.” My freshman year Bobo (Coach Brayton) started calling me the Penguin. Freshmen in the Pac-8 back in 1966-67 weren’t eligible to play varsity sports, so I was playing games against the varsity a lot in fall ball scrimmages. I was playing well, hitting well and on base a lot, so he was getting to see me run a lot too. I imagine that may have had something to do with the nickname. He hit it big with that one.

John Sciurba asks: How much fun was it being on “Columbo” with Peter Falk in the late 1980s?

Cey: A producer friend of mine, John Epstein, wanted me to do this and lined it up with Peter. I have a much greater appreciation for the amount of time and detail that goes into a production like that, plus I spent break times hanging out with Peter, just the two of us talking about a little of everything. I had a real good time with the cast and enjoyed my part but getting to spend time with Peter was special.

Scott Barton asks: Were there any pitchers you found particularly tough to hit against in your career?

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Cey: Kent Tekulve. Statistically I’m sure there are others that would suggest otherwise. He literally threw off his shoe tops (Super Submariner!) and I just couldn’t get comfortable facing him. I tried moving up in the box, moving back in the box, moving up on the plate, moving away from the plate. I once hit a slider in the second deck foul, just missing the foul pole at the top in Pittsburgh and it was the last slider he ever threw me. That might have been my highlight facing him. So, not much to talk about here! (Editor’s note: Cey was seven for 49 lifetime against Tekulve, with no extra-base hits.)

Stephanie Stevens asks: I was 10 years old and devastated when you were traded to the Cubs. What was your reaction?

Cey: Really disappointed! I wanted to finish my career with the Dodgers. I had a great meeting with Peter O’Malley to discuss it and we parted on good terms. Cubs GM Dallas Green was eager to have me and made promises to me that he kept. The Cubs were NL East Champions in 1984, two years after I left the Dodgers. I led the club in homers (25) and RBIs (97). Ryne Sandberg was the league MVP. Rick Sutcliffe won the Cy Young Award. I had things I wanted to prove and that there was something left in me as a player.

Rene Ray De La Cruz of Apple Valley asks: Tell us about the song you recorded, “Guarding the Third Base Bag.” Whose idea was it? Are you a natural singer? Is the song available?

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Cey: Jimmy Campanis, son of former Dodgers GM Al Campanis, came to me with the idea of doing a couple of baseball jingles. I thought it would be fun considering I took boys glee in the seventh grade. You should be laughing now! Anyway, they used to play them in spring training in Vero Beach between innings. One Sunday in Vero, with my family in the stands behind home plate and the song playing, a woman a row back asks her husband: Is that Glen Campbell? My wife, Fran, heard this and broke into hysterics. I believe we sold 30 copies worldwide.

Steve Isaak asks: Which Dodgers team that you were on would you say was the best overall?

Cey: The 1977 Dodgers were the most talented team I ever played with. We had the first 30-homer foursome in MLB history (Baker, Cey, Garvey, Smith), the longest-running and most successful infield in MLB history (Garvey, Lopes, Russell, Cey) and a star-studded group of pitchers as well. However,the 1981 team was very, very talented and a team of destiny. We won it all in six games. It was the last game the “Fabled Infield” would play together. Lopes was the first to leave the group with Steve Sax taking over at second base in 1982. So, the 1981 Dodgers are my pick because we became “World Champions.”

Steve Latimer asks: Was there every any real animosity among members of “The Infield” or was most over that just overblown by the media?

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Cey: Yes there were problems. There was friction from time to time as you had successful players with different personalities. Sometimes those personalities collide. But, to the man, everyone was dedicated to living up to the tradition and history laid before us by the great Dodgers players and teams that came before us.

Don Mattert asks: I have been a Dodgers fan for 44 years, Ron is my favorite. Mr. Cey, I know you had many teammates, any favorites? And why? Thank you for the memories.

Cey: I was fortunate to have so many good players to play with who really understood the challenges and responsibilities that go with being a “Dodger.” It was easy having lots of friends. Successful players like to win and we won a lot. Davey Lopes was one that I hung with mostly.

Anthony Rogers asks: Can you take us through the at-bat where Goose Gossage hit you in the head? Did Gossage contact you afterward?

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Cey: I was trying to stay in on a ball that was up and in and a possible late-breaking slider. When it was time to bail out it was too late. I wasn’t wearing an ear flap helmet so with a late duck of my head I was lucky to have the ball hit the brim. I fell in slow motion and wasn’t sure what happened. Dodgers trainer Bill Buhler was the first to reach me and, after a moment, said that there was no visible damage. So, off to the training room for ice and a turban wrapped around my head. Gossage and Yankees manager Bob Lemon both came to our clubhouse immediately following the game. Goose told me the reason he didn’t come to home plate in the moment was that he was fearing he had hurt me badly. We had known each other, played against each other so no reason to think it was intentional. Under today’s concussion protocol I would have been ruled out for the rest of the World Series. That would have hurt worse then getting hit in the head.

Once again, I want to thank Ron Cey for taking part in the “Ask” series and answering reader questions.

Ask Ross Porter

Former Dodgers broadcaster Ross Porter is back for another season of “Ask Ross Porter.” We have a new email address this season for it. Ross will have access to this email address and will get your questions without me having to forward them. So, if you have a message (like thanking him for his years as a broadcaster) and not a question, feel free to let him know. Send your question or comment to rossporterdodgers@gmail.com.

Jim Lawson of Santa Barbara asks: Why haven’t the Dodgers ever released a DVD of Vin Scully’s final broadcast?

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Ross: That’s a great idea, Jim. I don’t know why it hasn’t been done.

Jonathan Boxer asks: How much input do coaches have on creating the daily lineup for the Dodgers?

Ross: The manager usually has a coach or two in his office a few hours before a game to discuss their lineup and batting order. They look at the lifetime numbers showing what their hitters have done against the rival pitcher that day, and that is considered. So is who is hot and who is not.

Ron Walker of Torrance asks: Hi, Ross, I greatly enjoyed and very much miss the way you would seamlessly weave updates on out of town games into your radio play-by-play. Did you ever get any pushback to “focus more on the game in front of you?”

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Ross: Never, Ron. I realized not everyone listening was a Dodger fan. Many had come to California from an area with a team which was their favorite.

Stuart Richards of Encino asks: Tom Niedenfuer says he is never invited to any of the Dodger reunions. Ross, what about you?

Ross: No.

Phyllis Maxwell of Charleston, W.Va. asks: I’m wondering, Ross, how much LIVE action there is in one game in the major sports?

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Ross: Here are the numbers for five professional sports:

Sport, Amount of Action, Percentage of Action

Baseball, 18 minutes, 10%

Basketball, 48 minutes, 35%

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Football, 11 minutes, 6%

Hockey, 60 minutes, 43%

Soccer, 58 minutes, 50%

Alan Harris of Mill Valley asks: I think the games are longer because of the TV commercials. Could they start an inning during a commercial and show the game in a box on the screen simultaneously? Would that be enough itself to shorten games?

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Ross: It would never happen, Alan, because the sponsors would complain that the viewers were distracted and not paying attention to the commercial that cost them a great deal of money. An average game has 43 minutes of commercials. Local broadcasts allow 2 minutes and 5 seconds between innings, but used 2:41 a year ago. National telecasts should have a 2:25 window, but averaged 2:55. Last season the average length of a game was a record 3 hours and 5 minutes. In 2005, it was 2 hours and 46 minutes. Source: David Smith, Retrosheet.org.

Book recommendation

Former Dodger GM Fred Claire, who has participated in the “Ask” series in this newsletter a couple of times, is the subject of a book written by Tim Madigan that was released recently. Claire has battled jaw and neck cancer for the last few years and the book, “EXTRA INNINGS (Fred Claire’s Journey to City of Hope and Finding a World Championship Team)” tells the story of Fred’s battle and the team at City of Hope that helped him.

The book is available through publisher Mascot Books, and if you enter the coupon code FriendOfFred, you can get 20% off. All proceeds from the book go to City of Hope.

I-5 Series


The first simulated I-5 Series is in the books. Readers chose the rosters for both teams, one made up of the best players born or raised in Southern California, one of the best from Northern California. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts chose the starting lineups in Games 1 and 2, with me managing the team against Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle, using the apbago.com game engine to play the games. To watch:

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Game 3: Click here.

Game 4: Click here.

Game 5: Click here.

Game 6: Click here.

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Game 7: Click here.

And finally

The Dodgers salute military hero William “Dean” Whitaker. Watch it here.

Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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