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Monday, September 22, 2008

Your SKO Random Cubs Third Baseman of the Day: Keith Moreland

Name: Bobby Keith Moreland
Bats: Right Throws: Right
Ht: 6'0'' Weight: 200 lb
Years as a Cub: 1982-1987

"Have Keith Moreland drop a Routine Fly.."

Keith Moreland is remembered fondly by most Cubs fans as the popular, if defensively challenged right fielder for the Cubs of the early 80s, specifically the 1984 Cubs. Many fans forget that he occasionally started at third those years, and became the full time third baseman his final year with the Cubs in 1987. Had Keith remembered to take his glove with him to third base, fans might remember him even more fondly.

Keith was acquired by the Cubs in a 1981 trade with the Phillies that sent current Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow east in exchange for Moreland and pitchers Dickie Noles and Dan Larson. Larson and Noles were mostly busts with the Cubs, as Larson was gone after 1982 and Noles was moved from the rotation to the pen and traded away early in 1984. Keith, however, appeared in over 138 games in each of his six seasons in Chicago and was a key part of the 1984 NL East champion team.

After averaging 15 homers and 81 RBIs a year to go along with a .279 average in his first 5 seasons with the Cubs, mostly in the outfield, Moreland was moved to third base when the Cubs signed free agent Andre Dawson before the 1987 season. A hole had opened up at third base when the Cubs had allowed the 38 year old Ron Cey, who had manned the position since 1983, to walk after the 1986 season. With Dawson in the outfield, and an infield of Moreland at third, promising second-year starter Shawon Dunston at short, Ryne Sandberg at second, Leon Durham at 1st, and Jody Davis catching, hopes were high for the 1987 Cubs to contend for the first time since their '84 division championship.

Alas it was not to be, as an injury to Sandberg, revolving doors in left and center field, poor play by Dunston, a below average season from Jody Davis, and the lack of a starting pitcher behind Rick Sutcliffe all conspired to land the Cubs in last place, despite leading the league in homer runs thanks mostly to an MVP season from newcomer Dawson. On the offensive side of the ball, Moreland contributed to the Cubs 209 home runs that year with a career high 27 of his own, and had a respectable .266/27/88/.309/.465 line in 153 games.

Where Moreland failed to be respectable in 1987, however, was in the field. Despite having 40 career starts at the hot corner going into 1987, Moreland played like a raw rookie in a 149 starts. With 28 errors, a below average .934 fielding %, and an average-at-best 2.66 range factor, Moreland proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was not the answer at that position, and the Cubs decided to go in a different direction.

Before the 1988 season, the Cubs signed Vance Law, a much better defensive player, to play third base and shipped Moreland to the Padres in exchange for Goose Gossage and Ray Hayward, and thus ended the Cubs career of one of the more popular players of the 80s.

Today Moreland is a baseball coach at St. Stephen's Episcopal School, where he shares a connection with your beloved author. Moreland's pitching coach at St. Stephen's is Scott Ruffcorn, a former first round pick of the White Sox and cousin to the author in question. We don't discuss his former team.

Keith Moreland: Should have stayed in the outfield.

Cubs Clinch- An Hour by Hour/Inning by Inning Account

This Saturday, as anyone here should know, the Cubs clinched their 2nd consecutive NL Central Division Title. The girlfriend bought us tickets for my birthday so like good cornfield denizens of the Quad Cities, we drove to Aurora and hopped on a train to avoid driving in Chicago. The game was perfect as was the night, so here's a brief account of how it all went down

5:40 AM- Wake up. Girlfriend practically drags me out of bed. I am most hesitant to go. Eventually I stir myself.

7:00 AM- Drop the dogs off at the kennel, as my parents had friends with them for the weekend out at our family's camper, and neither of us would be home to take care of the pups. Hit the road with my dad's TomTom as our guide to the Aurora train station.

7:30 AM- Realized that I forgot to hit "start" on the TomTom, and have thus managed to get lost in Rock Island..a town I travel through every day.

7:40 AM- After turning the TomTom on, we hit the interstate for Aurora.

9:50 AM- Arrive in Aurora, buy tickets for the 10:20 to Union Station. We ask a man in a uniform if the train currently on the tracks is the right train. He responds in a thick Chicago accent "Yeah, of course it is. Fuck, ya never rode the train before? If you're heading to the game I hope ya bring them some fuckin luck. Fuck. That fuckin' Zambrano got fuckin torched yesterday. Hope they can at least fuckin clinch today. But yeah, thats the right train. Have fun. Fuckin go Cubs!" We board the train.

12:00 PM- Arrive in Union Station 18 minutes late due to "construction on the track". My heart goes out to the poor bastards who ride those things to work every day.

12:30 PM- After getting directions from Union Station to the Red Line from a hobo (who turned out to be wrong) we walk 8 blocks toward the wrong station before being directed by a kind, though loud mouthed, Cubs fan, who directs us underground to the right station. While waiting for the train, the kindly loud mouth comments that "this is where you go if you want to get to the Cubs game." I respond that if you want to go to the White Sox game, you hop down and lick the third rail. Laughs all around.

1:00 PM- Arrive at the Addison station after climbing from below ground to well above, which made the girlfriend beyond nervous. The huge camera around her neck and our complete and obvious lack of direction make our inexperience in the city as obvious as though we'd had signs around our necks saying "gullible tourists". As Wrigley comes into view the girlfriend (her first trip ever) smiles bright enough to power most of the North Side. Its a proud moment for the man who converted her from a Red Sox (not her fault, her father's from Boston) to a Cubs fan in February.

1:10 PM- Girlfriend asks why the statue of Harry Caray is so unnervingly creepy. I respond that the designer confused Harry's diet of beer with a diet of Souls.

1:25 PM- We enter Wrigley and climb up the stairs to watch batting practice. Upon her first view of the field, girlfriend marvels that "its so much smaller than it looks on TV". We move down to watch BP, but are unable to obtain autographs, though we snap a few good pictures of Z, Lou, and Geovany Soto as he warms up.

1:45 PM- After purchasing two Chicago Dogs, we devour them after moving to our seats. The girlfriend, who is normally Not a hot dog eater, marvels at the concept of grilled onions and tomatoes as condiments. Watching my girlfriend with the normally perfect table manners and very select eating habits wolf down a dog and smear mustard on her mouth nearly brings a tear to my eye.

2:30 PM- two couples sit down to my right. The man in the seat next to me reveals that he's from Toronto and is a Blue Jays fan. We discuss Lyle Overbay, AJ Burnett's fragility, his surprise at Ted's success with the Cubs, and our mutual love of Matt Stairs. True baseball fans are fun, no matter the franchise. He is clearly smitten with Wrigley Field.

2:40 PM- First pitch from a 104 year old hobbit. Crowd goes wild.

2:45 PM- First pitch from Vince Vaughn. Crowd less than impressed.

2:55 PM/ Top of the 1st-First pitch. Cesar Izturis leads off the game. The girlfriend, who only learned the principle of On Base Percentage in April (still ahead of Dusty Baker), has the following conversation with me-
GF- Why's someone with such a low average and OBP leading off?
Me- Because Tony LaRussa is a genius.
GF- Doesn't seem like it to me ( as she talks, Izturis pops out to Soto, GF cheers ecstatically for her "Little Geovany").

Ryan Ludwick bats, and doubles before retires Pujols and Lopez to end the inning.

Bottom of the 1st-Joel Piniero starts and the Cubs answer the Cardinals with a double wedged between three outs.

Top of the 2nd- I question the Cardinals fan sitting next to the Blue Jays fan as to why .267/24/90/.369/.477 Troy Glaus is batting 5th while .264/5/39/.328/.362 Felipe Lopez bats cleanup. Cards fan rolls his eyes and mutters something that sounds like "trucking LaRussa". curious. Cardinals go down quick, with only a soft single from Brian Barton.

Bottom of the 2nd-Cubs load the bases with two outs. Soriano singles to left to make it 3-0. Girlfriend goes for the hug while I moronically go for the high five. Awkwardness ensues. Eventually a high five and hug result.

Top of the 3rd- Ted mows them down and erases the only base runner with a double play.

Bottom of the 3rd- Cubs go down in order. The game is moving along quickly.

Top of the 4th-Ted continues to roll, setting the heart of the order,although with Felipe Lopez batting cleanup one can argue that its a heart with serious defects, down 1-2-3.

Bottom of the 4th- Cubs score two on a double by Mark DeRosa and a suicide squeeze by Lilly, possibly the most exciting play of the game.

Top of the 5th- Cardinals go down in order. Ted sets the cruise control.

Bottom of the 5th- Cubs go down quietly, with an Edmonds DP erasing an Aramis single.

Top of the 6th- Ted sparks fears of pants-shitting everywhere as a Lopez single and Glaus three run homer cut a 5-0 lead to 5-4. Girlfriend attempts to calm down my growing fears. Tension hovers in the air.

Bottom of the 6th- Hopes for a momentum swing are dashed as Fukudome refuses to swing on a hit and run call and gets Soto thrown out at second, then strikes out. I'm not sure if I'm more pissed at Fukudome for playing so meek, or if the Girlfriend is more pissed that he got Soto thrown out.

Top of the 7th- In a surprise move, Lou sends Ted to start the 7th. Ted reverts to form, striking out the first two batters and getting Cesar to ground out to end the inning. All in all 6 great innings out of 7 total for Ted.

Bottom of the 7th- Cubs go down in order, but not before the Girlfriend snaps a perfect picture of Mike Fontenot. Not sure why that matters.

Top of the 8th- Crowd on its feet as Marmol slices through Ludwick, Pujols, and Lopez. I rejoice that Pujols can't ruin it in the 9th. The crowd gets even more tense as they start to taste victory.

Bottom of the 8th- Lee, Ramirez, Edmonds all go down as everyone seems intent on finishing this thing quickly.

Top of the 9th- 41,597 on their feet as Wood comes in to close it out. After some grumbling over a walk to Glaus, Kerry grounds out Kennedy and strikes out Skip Schumaker. A soft fly ball off of the bat of Aaron Miles fittingly lands in the glove of Jim Edmonds. The crowd goes nuts as the Girlfriend (an opera major with some serious pipes) destroys a row of ear drums with an ear piercing scream of joy. Three rounds of "Go Cubs Go" follow, as well as "Someday We'll Go All the Way". I find myself disappointed at the low number of fans who've actually heard the song. After watching the Cubs celebrate on the mound, we wait for them to return from the dugout and watch them spray the stands with champagne. Finally we work our way out, still singing "Go Cubs Go" as we high five half of Wrigleyville.

After leaving the stadium we head into Wrigleyville Sports to work our way past the crowd of fans desperate for 2008 Central Champion shirts. The Girlfriend picks out a nice pinstriped t-shirt reminiscent of the late 80s/early 90s pullover Cubs jerseys. She demurs my suggestion that she buy the sansabelt pants to match. We walk a mile to reach Giordanos, determined to have some deep dish pizza. The pizza is delicious, and the ride back to Union Station on the red line from Belmont is full of rejoicing Cubs fans and somber Cardinals fans. At Union Station we board the 8:40 train to Aurora, arriving at 10:00. At 1:10 in the morning we arrive back at home, and fall asleep moments after hitting the bed.

In conclusion: It was a wonderful birthday gift and a great moment for Cubs fans, old and new.