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Feeney Makes Obscene Gesture at Game

Times Staff Writer

Padre President Chub Feeney chose an unusual way to show his gratitude on Fan Appreciation Night Saturday, answering hecklers with an obscene gesture viewed by many of the 22,509 and a local cable television audience.

In the middle of the seventh inning of a 3-0 Padre victory over the Houston Astros, two men paraded a banner reading “Scrub Chub” along the plaza level, two levels below Feeney’s seat in the owner’s box. Feeney stepped down to the front of the box and flashed an obscene gesture with his right hand. He then turned the hand around and waved.

While fans booed, the cameras of the San Diego Cable Sports Network quickly turned away and the broadcast went to a commercial. When they returned to the air, announcer Ted Leitner explained the gesture, “And Chub says we’re No. 1.”

In a phone call later with a pool reporter, Feeney denied giving the gesture. But several fans said he made one.

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“I would never have given an obscene gesture,” Feeney said. “That’s absolutely ridiculous. It was two guys walking around with a sign, and I waved to them. What’s the big deal? I thought it was kind of funny.

“I deny giving an obscene gesture.”

According to fan Jeff Morse, sitting directly below Feeney’s box, it was a very big deal.

“There were two guys walking around with the banner, calling for him, and then he walked to the rail and flipped them off,” said Morse, 33, of Oceanside. “This is a family thing here, he shouldn’t be doing that.”

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Added Steve Plesser, 26, of San Diego: “I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘He didn’t want to do that.’ You don’t want to do that to people. You don’t want to do that to fans. If you ask me, it’s as bad as what Al Campanis did.”

Campanis, the former Dodger general manager, was fired from that post shortly after opening day last season when he made racially offensive remarks on a national television interview.

Feeney, 67, was expected to retire at the end of the season. It is not known whether this will hasten that decision. Owner Joan Kroc left the game early and her representative, Beth Benes, was unavailable for comment.

Several of the fans, however, hope that this will be Feeney’s final straw.

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“It was a shock, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said San Diego’s Roger Dallman, 39. “It stinks on any night. It’s lousy, it shouldn’t happened. He gets paid enough to stay in his seat.

“Before, I thought it was 50-50 that Chub should go. Now, he can just go.”

Said Plesser: “I’ve always wanted him to go. This should help out.”

Padre players, none of whom saw the gesture, would not comment. But Shortstop Garry Templeton recalled the time he made an obscene gesture to the fans in St. Louis in 1981 and was heavily fined.

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“Tell him that’s $5,000,” Templeton said.

Feeney has been in the center of controversy since coming out of retirement to take over the club presidency June 10, 1987. He has drawn criticism from players and media alike for his refusal to sign free agents last winter and his delay in negotiating with the current Padre free agents until two weeks ago.

At the beginning of this season he misidentified both Padre players and coaches. On opening night in Houston he referred to first base coach Greg Riddoch as Rick. At the home opener luncheon a week later, he congratulated outfielder John Kruk for a fine relief pitching performance, thinking he was Lance McCullers.

Then two weeks ago, he was involved in a shouting match in the hallway of club offices with frustrated player agent Jerry Kapstein, who said Feeney had cancelled several appointments.

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There also was a game Saturday night. Lately with the Padres, it seems the game is not the thing.

Nonetheless, they played, and pitcher Ed Whitson pitched as well as he has pitched all season, throwing a six-hitter for his first shutout and third complete game in 33 starts. Thanks to that, and a homer and three runs scored by Carmelo Martinez, and the Padres pulled back to .500 (77-77) for the first time in a week. They also won for the fourth time in five games since Manager Jack McKeon gave an don’t-quit-until-the-end-of-the-season clubhouse scolding in Los Angeles.

The game began with a surprise--Houston’s Jeff Heathcock replaced scheduled starter Nolan Ryan at the last minute after Ryan reinjured his left hamstring warming up in the bullpen. The Padre hitters responded by hitting Heathcock, who throws about 10 m.p.h. slower than Ryan, for two runs in four innings, with an RBI single by Marvell Wynne and an RBI double by Benito Santiago. Martinez’s eight-inning homer, his 18th, finished the scoring and left it up to Whitson, who improved to 13-11 with a 3.76 ERA.

“This is the best season in my career,” said Whitson, who had lost his last three starts. “I might not have much to show for it, but I’ve been throwing as good as I can. I just hope I can use this last week as a good stepping-off point to next season.”

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Padre Notes

Although Saturday was Fan Appreciation Night, next week’s three-game series against the Dodgers will be much better for the fans. On Monday at 7:05 p.m., Dodgers Fernando Valenzuela will be making his first start since going on the disabled list. Then on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m., in the Padres’ final home game of the year, Dodger Orel Hershiser will be attempting to extend his incredible scoreless inning streak, currently at 49, just 9 innings short of the major league record . . . With just a week left in the season, the Padres have made their first change in the pitching rotation. Jimmy Jones is out, Greg Harris and Greg Booker are in. Jones will spend his final week in the bullpen while starts are being made by the rookie Harris (today against Houston) and Booker (Saturday in Houston). The demotion of Jones was not unexpected--he has won just twice in his past 10 starts, and has allowed 10 runs in his last two starts covering seven innings. But this is the first clear signal that next spring, Jones might not have a starting job locked up as he did this spring. “A lot depends on what happens between now and then,” pitching coach Pat Dobson said, speaking of possible trades or free agent signings. “Right now, we would just like to get a look at the other two guys.” It will be minor league star Harris’ first big-league start and second big-league appearance. Last week in Cincinnati, in his big-league debut, he allowed two runs in two innings. Reliever Booker, meanwhile, will start because of his fine job as a spot starter last week in Los Angeles, when he held the Dodgers to one run on five hits over six innings. Both Harris and Booker, if he is not traded, could be thrown into a No. 5 starter fight next spring.


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