Keith Moreland, baseball's do-everything Chicago Cub
Los Angeles — They've got this fellow playing three or four different positions this year for the Chicago Cubs (although not at the same time) and staying right in the thick of the National League batting race, and nobody knows who he is. Well, almost nobody.
So I decided to put in a telephone call to Imaginary Image Makers, Inc. to see what they could do about it. I think the executive on the other end of the line said his name was Solly Baby.
''I'll need a few details before we can get started on this,'' Solly explained. ''What's this guy's name, what's he like, does he have an outgoing personality we can do something with, like Don Rickles? If I can get him a spot on television, can he sing, dance, play the zither?''
''No, no, it's not like that at all, Solly,'' I replied. ''I just want a few thousand baseball fans around the country to know who he is so they won't forget to vote for him at All-Star Game time.
''Anyway, the man's name is Keith Moreland, and although he was born in Texas , he comes off as Midwest as a pitchfork. The other thing you notice about him right away are his legs, which are big enough around to hold up expansion bridges. He's got this nice even home run swing, too, and he was a starting defensive back his sophomore year for Darrell Royal at the University of Texas.''
''Goodness gracious, you're not giving me much to work with,'' Solly groaned. ''Tell me, do you think he'd hold still for a first-name change, like maybe Tyrone! Perhaps if we could get him to wear a baseball cap about two sizes too small, so it would fly off every time he did something, that would help. Or possibly we could fake a fight with his manager in front of the television cameras to get him some publicity.''
''If it's all right with you, Solly,'' I interrupted, ''I'll think about what you said and call again later. Only don't ruin your whole day by standing too near the phone, because I might be a couple of years getting back to you.''
The fact is Keith Moreland, after two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, was content to stay there until he read in the papers last winter that the club had traded for catcher Bo Diaz. Moreland, who considers catching his best position, suddenly decided he wanted out.
''I think it was obvious when Philadelphia made the Diaz deal that the Phillies were thinking backup for me and, frankly, I felt I'd earned the position,'' Keith explained. ''Since I couldn't see any other alternatives for myself with Philadelphia, I asked to be traded.''
Moreland didn't have to wait long. Dallas Green, his former manager who left Philadelphia at the end of last season to take over the front office of the Cubs , quickly made a deal for Keith.
Keith wasn't unhappy either when he found that his new manager was going to be former Phillies' third base coach Lee Elia, whom he had played for before when both were employed in Philadelphia's minor league organization.
''There are a lot of players around who can handle more than one position, but not many of them with Moreland's aggressiveness at the plate,'' Elia said. ''When you're trying to build for the future and you find yourself in a transition period the way we are right now, you need a guy who can plug the trouble spots for you.
''For a while I was playing Keith all over the place -- like catcher, first and third base and the outfield,'' Lee continued. ''But now that I know a little more about this club, I'll probably restrict him to catching and right field for the rest of the season.
''Another reason we got Moreland was because we needed a strong right-handed hitter in the middle of our lineup. You know, someone we could slip in between Bill Buckner and Leon Durham. The big thing is that Keith can switch positions regularly and not have it affect his offense. And when he plays right field, it means that Jody Davis gets a chance to develop as our future first-string catcher.''
But what Moreland says about himself, perhaps, provides an even greater look into his personality than Elia's comments.
''Even though I'm capable of between 20 and 25 home runs every year, I've never thought of myself as a slugger or a No. 4 hitter,'' Keith told me recently during a Los Angeles-Chicago series at Dodger Stadium.
''Most of the time when I'm up there swinging, I'm going to make contact,'' he continued. ''In the two years I've already been in the big leagues, I've learned some things about reading opposing pitchers. But I don't pretend that I can give a clinic at the plate on how to hit, the way Pete Rose does every day. I'm just a guy who has always swung the bat pretty well.''
So far he's been swinging it to the tune of a .352 average (second in the league behind Pittsburgh's Jason Thompson), and is also among the leaders with eight home runs and 33 RBIs at this writing.
Obviously the Cubs will happily take Moreland - oversize wrists, hair that sometimes looks more orange than red, below average speed, and all - the latter practically forgotten on those occasions when Keith is hammering the ball over some outfield fence.