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Chub Feeney Resigns as President of Padres

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Chub Feeney resigned his post as Padre president Sunday, one day after treating a Fan Appreciation Night crowd to an obscene gesture with his right hand.

Feeney, 67, publicly apologized for a gesture he initially denied giving, and then stated he was returning to retirement.

“I was going to wait until Wednesday night to announce this but . . . I won’t be coming back next season,” Feeney told reporters in a brief question-and-answer session at the start of the Padres’ game with the Houston Astros here, a game the Padres eventually won, 9-1.

Feeney’s tenure with the Padres ended after 256 games over 2 seasons, in which the club went 127-129. Feeney’s major contribution was the May 28 firing of former Manager Larry Bowa, whom he replaced with Jack McKeon. The team, 16-30 under Bowa, has since gone 61-47.

The major criticism from players and management was Feeney’s inactivity in regards to trades and free-agent signings. Asked if his resignation was solely his decision, Feeney said, “Yes, it is.”

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He denied, however, that the decision had anything to do with Saturday night’s incident.

“I had planned on not coming back for about 10 days now; this was not a decision I made last night,” he said. “I was going to do it on the last day of the home stand but . . . I just thought it would be better for me to retire again.”

Last summer the 67-year-old former National League president was coaxed out of that retirement by Padre owner Joan Kroc, and this spring he verbally agreed to stay through 1990. However, as far back as a month ago, after taking great criticism in the media for his inactivity, Feeney admitted he was indecisive about his future.

“Sometimes,” Feeney said in a resignation summation, “you get tired of seeing your name in the newspapers.”

Kroc, who refused to give him a vote of confidence this summer, chose not to comment, or even to visit the ballpark because of what officials termed a “previous commitment.”

McKeon, meanwhile, said simply: “It was no big surprise. There’s been a lot of indecision all year.”

When the resignation was announced by Jerry Coleman on KFMB radio, many of the 11,796 in the stands at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium broke into cheers. In the Padre clubhouse afterward, the reaction was both shrugs and suppressed giggles.

Said outfielder Tony Gwynn: “The times have been tough for him, and I guess he finally had enough. I actually feel a little sorry for him, going out like this.”

Added pitcher Andy Hawkins: “I think he’s doing what’s best for the club, I just hope it turns out right this time. You’ve got to understand, this situation isn’t anything new around here. Let’s be truthful, the guys upstairs on this team have had trouble running the club and staying out of the public eye for a long time. This stuff has been happening since 1984. What has happened here this time isn’t earth-shattering.”

But it’s never happened quite like Saturday night.

Before, Feeney had misidentified players and coaches. He had engaged in a shouting match with a players’ agent in an office hallway. He had fallen asleep at 9 p.m. on a night scheduled for contract negotiations.

Feeney was criticized throughout the organization for everything from failing to fill the team’s needs through trades or free-agent signings to stalling in giving a raise to Tony Gwynn.

But none of it compared to Saturday. In the middle of the seventh inning of an eventual 3-0 Padre win over Houston, two La Jolla businessmen paraded two levels below Feeney’s box with a banner that read “Scrub Chub.”

“Somebody finally had to do something about him,” said Littleton Waller, 29, one of the two banner holders.

Feeney responded by leaving his seat, walking down to the front railing of the box and sticking up his right hand in an obscene gesture. He then turned the hand around and waved, but it was too late. Several sections of the 22,509 fans had seen it, and it had been broadcast over the San Diego Cable Sports Network. Later that night, reports of the gesture ran on all three major local television stations.

“I couldn’t believe it, he did it with this big smile on his face, this big beaming smile,” said the other banner holder, Jim Perry, 30, who returned the obscene gesture. “I started screaming, ‘Did you see that, did you see that?’ to make sure everybody saw it. Nice timing, on Fan Appreciation Night.”

Within minutes, Feeney was phoned by a pool reporter and questioned about the gesture.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous, I deny giving an obscene gesture,” he said. “I was just waving.”

Sunday upon his resignation, he changed his story.

“I would like to . . . offer my sincerest apology for the incident that occurred,” he said. “A totally inappropriate gesture was made by myself (even though it was not intended to be public) in a moment of frustration and anger which I wish with all my heart had never occurred.

“My adult life has been devoted to baseball and of utmost importance to me has been the positive effect it has on our society and the young people who follow and love the game. I am gravely upset with myself for allowing my anger to get the better of me where the game I care for so much is involved. I cannot undo what has been done, but again I apologize for the incident.”

On Sunday, the players, who wouldn’t comment on the gesture Saturday, just shook their heads.

“Everybody in their life has done something a little crazy,” Gwynn said. “But in front of that many people? I guess the way he is going out is not going to settle well with a lot of people.”

So what happens now? Although Feeney’s official tenure won’t end until the Padres’ final game next Sunday in Houston, Feeney will reportedly give up all presidential duties now, which directly affects the most pressing bit of Padre business, signing free agents Eric Show, Hawkins and Garry Templeton. Meetings were set this week with representatives of Hawkins (Jerry Kapstein, today) and Show (Steve Greenberg, Thursday).

Even if Feeney had stayed, at least one meeting would have been canceled, as Kapstein phoned Feeney Sunday and informed him that because of his obscene gesture, he would no longer negotiate with Feeney.

“Whatever happens, I just hope we don’t lose a president and all of our free agents,” infielder Tim Flannery said. “That’s what worries most of us.”

Aside from the free agents, what about Feeney’s position? The Padres are already looking for a baseball vice president to replace Jack McKeon. Where are they going to find two executives? Although no front-office official would comment, here are some likely scenarios.

--Look McKeon, who has negotiated almost every contract ever signed by Hawkins and Show, to take over free-agent negotiations. Look for at least one of them, if not both, to be signed by the end of next week.

--Look for the Padres not to hire two executives, but one, reorganizing the staff such that the club president is also in charge of the player negotiations, the one area in which McKeon has divested himself.

Therefore there would be a president, a vice president in charge of business, and McKeon, who is still essentially the baseball vice president anyway.

That president could come from within the club or Kroc’s personal staff. It could be executive vice president Dick Freeman, the business boss, who will act as president until someone is found. Or it could be Beth Benes, Kroc’s lawyer and top aide.

The ideal replacement is probably impossible to hire, that being Tal Smith, the Padres’ top consultant who handles their arbitration cases. Problem is, Smith consults for many teams, and has been reportedly offered more than a dozen club executive jobs in the past several years, turning all of them down to remain independent. Smith’s son Randy is the Padres’ assistant farm director, but it would probably take more than family ties to woo his respected father.


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