Bloop Hits: Oh Cey, can you sing?
Ron Cey was my first favorite baseball player. He had a powerful bat, a deft glove, an unusually squat build and a colorful nickname — “The Penguin” — inspired by the way he waddled around the bases. And, best of all, he cut a single that got semi-regular airplay on the Dr. Demento Show.
As two-sided SoCal pop classics go, “Third Base Bag” b/w “One Game at a Time” will never be mentioned in the same breath as, say, the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” b/w “God Only Knows.” But Ron Cey’s 1976 single is still spoken of in hushed tones among a certain tribe of men and women who grew up wearing #10 on their Little League uniforms in tribute to the Dodgers’ All-Star third baseman. Several of my friendships have been sealed by the realization that the Penguin was both of our favorite players when we were kids. And that shared epiphany is always immediately followed by the other person asking me, in an almost conspiratorial whisper, “Hey, you’ve heard his record, right?”
The record in question was the brainchild of Jim Campanis Sr., a former backup catcher with the Dodgers and Royals, who by 1976 was working in the Dodgers’ community affairs office. “The idea for Ronnie’s record came from when I was playing for the Royals,” Campanis says. “We had a pitcher named Al Fitzmorris, who was a singer, and I put him together with a friend of mine in Kansas City who had a recording studio. A year later, when I was working for the Dodgers, Ronnie was a big star, and being the entrepreneur that I thought I was …”
While playing racquetball, Campanis met songwriter Clyde Curtis Ligons and told him he was on the lookout for some original songs for Cey to sing. “Two weeks later he had the songs,” Campanis remembers. “I heard ‘em both, and I loved ‘em both!”
“Jimmy came to me and said, ‘Let’s do a baseball jingle!’” Cey recalls. “And, you know, I thought it would be something neat to do. So we threw it together and recorded it in one day, and the rest is history!”
The session was set for April 13 at a home studio belonging to a friend of Campanis, with several session musicians and vocalists in attendance. “The studio was somewhere in Orange County, in somebody’s house,” Cey remembers. “I had a game to play in San Diego that night, so I drove to the studio, laid down the tracks, and I continued from there on down to San Diego.” (Possibly drained by the intense studio regimen, Cey would go 0-for-4 against the Padres that night.)
“I was only nine or ten at the time, but I remember it like it was yesterday,” says Jim Campanis Jr. “It was just like you see in the movies: Ron was in the vocal booth with his headphones on, and the backing vocalists were singing along with him.”
The country-tinged “Third Base Bag” is probably the better of the two sides, as Cey’s laconic vocals work well with such aw-shucks lines like, “Every now and then I make a good tag.” The disco-fied “One Game at a Time” is more of a stretch – the decision to have him double-track his vocals was ill-advised, to say the least. But its laid-back ‘70s sheen definitely captures the L.A. of the era, and the brief call-and-response cameo from Campanis Sr. at around the 1:30 mark is kind of charming in its goofiness.
“I like to joke with my dad that he was the first rapper, because of his part on the record,” laughs Campanis Jr. “The disco thing was really happening in L.A. at the time, and the country thing was coming on. It’s kind of like you can hear both ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Urban Cowboy’ in there, even though neither of those movies had come out yet!”
The two songs came out in the summer of ’76 on Long Ball Records, a label started by Campanis Sr. for the release. And while he had visions of the record climbing the charts, he lacked the distribution or financial backing to make that happen. “Third Base Bag” received regular spins at Dodger Stadium, where copies of the single were available at the souvenir shop, and it got enough local airplay that Ligons (according to Campanis Sr.) made a few hundred bucks in songwriting royalties. Ultimately, though, the only chart it made was Dr. Demento’s year-end Nifty 50 for 1977, lodged at #49 between National Lampoon’s “Deteriorata” and Sulu’s “I Love Your Toes.”
“Well, it wasn’t really designed to be a hit,” Cey insists. “I think it may have sold thirty copies worldwide. It was really just kind of a keepsake that was done in fun. Anyone who took it more seriously than that missed the point!”
Cey says he never sang the song again after that recording session. “That was my one and only shot, and I enjoyed it,” he laughs. “I suppose the reason why I was okay with doing it in the first place was that I was finally able to put my seventh grade glee class experience to use!”
Still, Cey gets a kick out of the record’s continued life, nearly thirty-nine years after its original release. “I’ve seen it on YouTube, I’ve heard other people play it, and I have a CD of it that Jimmy made up, which I pass out to some of my friends and some of the people in the office for a good laugh,” he says. “We were at fantasy camp in Vero Beach last November, and Rick Monday pulled it up on YouTube and started playing it in the clubhouse. Everyone wanted to know who it was, and we all had a good laugh about it.”
Besides, Cey says, “It’s just one of those things I have that someone else doesn’t. I used to kid Ryne Sandberg when we were on the Cubs – He ran well, and I didn’t run so well in comparison, but I had an inside-the-park home run, and he didn’t. And he didn’t have his own record, either!”