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MORE FROM MORELAND : When He Left San Diego for the Detroit Tigers, He Did Not Go Quietly

Keith Moreland, San Diego’s favorite ex-Padre, returned last week to the land he says made him goofy: Southern California.

He was toting a blue duffel bag that said “Detroit Tigers.” He stood in Anaheim Stadium, about 100 miles north of San Diego, where he was previously employed by the Padres.

“I’ve played 11 years in the big leagues now,” he said, “and one in the minor leagues in between. And that was in San Diego.”

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It has been six months since Moreland and Chris Brown were traded for pitcher Walt Terrell. In that time, Moreland’s soft, Texas drawl has uttered some of the most acerbic lines about San Diego this side of Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko.

The day Moreland was traded to Detroit, he said he was “going back to the big leagues.” This spring, he told columnist Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press that walking into San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium was “like walking into a spring training B game.”

And Moreland, 34, hasn’t stopped swinging despite the fact that he swung himself right out of Detroit’s everyday lineup with an embarrassing spring training. His spring batting average (.119) turned him into a platoon designated hitter.

“I was ecstatic to be traded from San Diego,” Moreland reiterated. “I did not want to be there, I didn’t like it from the start, and I do not like it now.”

Moreland hasn’t hit anything hard yet this season (11 singles, one extra-base hit), but he was swinging hard now. On the subject of San Diego, he went for the cycle--hitting the city, the fans, the organization and even Yuma, Ariz., the Padre spring training home.

“It’s just not conducive to good baseball,” Moreland said of San Diego. “There’s too much to do. The fans are not into it, and the organization itself doesn’t know anything about the game of baseball. I hated it.”

The organization?

“Anybody who would have the top management they had when I was there,” Moreland said. “Chub Feeney . . . it was amazing. It’s not oriented around a winning tradition. It’s just, ‘Hey, we’re a big league team, we’re going to go out and play ball.’

“And the fans are rooting for the other team. Everybody down there is a transplant. The Mets come in, and there are 20,000 people rooting for the Mets. It seemed like we were on the road all the time.”

Obviously, Moreland does not hesitate to say what’s on his mind. He already has said that if Detroit isn’t planning on playing him every day, he wishes they’d “get me out of here.”

“Oh, sure, I’d much rather be in a situation where I could play every day, but I’m not going to scream and holler about it,” he said. “I’d much rather be someplace where I’m playing, either the field or DH, every day. But I don’t make the decisions, and I’m not upset at anybody. I just want to play.”

He is not playing largely because of what happened this spring, a time when he raised eyebrows around the Tiger camp in Lakeland, Fla., for all the wrong reasons--the .119 average (seven for 51), the two doubles without a home run and the three runs batted in.

“He had a dead spring, to be honest,” said Vada Pinson, Detroit’s batting coach. “Rigor mortis had set in. Quite a few people were concerned. I know I was. I just didn’t see him being aggressive.”

The point where concern seeped into conversation, and conversation turned into action, came one morning about the fourth week of spring training. A handful of Tigers were on the bench before a B game, and Pinson and Moreland started talking.

“There comes a time when you say, ‘OK, it’s time to turn it on now.’ We were sitting on the bench, and I asked him about things,” Pinson recalled. “He had a blank stare like he was confused.

“Now I’m looking at you when I talk to you, looking for eye contact. I didn’t get any. He was staring out at the field. He admitted he didn’t know what he was doing.”

After that game, Pinson and Moreland made the first of two trips to the batting cage. The second came later in the week. Pinson was standing by the clubhouse when he heard someone call out his name. It was Moreland.

“He was standing flat-footed at the plate,” Pinson said. “You use your hips to guide the ball.”

Moreland said he tried to do some things differently in spring training. He also said his shoulder, which he injured last year, was still tender.

He experimented with standing in different locations in the batter’s box and trying to do various things with the ball.

“I guess you shouldn’t mess with success or try to change anything you’ve done, but once in a while you try to see if something different might work for you,” Moreland said. “I lost my idea of how to approach hitting.”

By the time Moreland’s swing and shoulder were fixed, he had been supplanted at first base by rookie Torey Lovullo, a 1987 All-American at UCLA. Thus, Moreland became the first major leaguer to be replaced by a guy whose father was the producer of the old television series “Hee Haw.”

Manager Sparky Anderson was enamored with Lovullo and told Moreland and Dave Bergman that they wouldn’t be getting as much action at first base as they would like.

“I’ve been honest with both of them,” Anderson said. “That’s the only way to do it.”

So Moreland has been sharing the designated hitter duties with Bergman and Pat Sheridan. Although he’s hitting .273 (12 for 44), he has 11 singles, one double and just two RBIs. And he has more stolen bases (two) this season than extra base hits (one). Not much power for a power kind of guy.

“I just haven’t had the right situations,” Moreland said. “I’ve hit some balls good, but we’ve been in cold weather. Our whole team has been hitting the ball extremely hard. We played a whole series in Milwaukee (April 21-23) where we could have had a bunch of extra-base hits. Playing in a place like California, some of those balls would have been extra-base hits.”

Ah, California. The place where Moreland dropped from a career-high 27 home runs in 1987 with the Cubs to five for the Padres in 1988. He finished the year batting .256 with 64 RBIs. He went 67 games, from June 2 through Sept. 5, without a homer. When he finally hit one in San Francisco, he turned a cartwheel.

“It was just stupidity on my part,” Moreland said. “I’ve never done anything and never will again to show up another team. It had just been 200 and some at-bats without a home run, and it was like, ‘Hey, I finally hit a home run.’

“It was a freak of nature that playing down there will get you into.”

Playing down there in San Diego, where it’s like a spring training B game?

“Exactly,” Moreland said. “That’s exactly the way it is. There was nobody (in the stadium), and the people who were there didn’t know what was going on. It was pretty much a case of putting in your three hours and getting the hell out of Dodge. That’s all it is down there, and all it’s ever going to be as far as I’m concerned.

“There may be people who think it’s a great organization, and that’s great for them. But I personally couldn’t stand it. It started in Yuma, Ariz. Anybody who has to go to Yuma can figure out that it’s going to be a rather rough situation. And it progressively gets worse. I was elated to leave. They were probably elated to get rid of me.”

San Diego might be out of Moreland’s sight, but it’s certainly not out of his mind. He admits to reading the papers to follow the team--or, at least, some of the team.

“I follow Randy Ready and John Kruk,” Moreland said. “They are two really good guys. I’ve looked in the box scores every day to see how they’ve done. I wish both of them the very best. As far as the other end of it, I could care less.”


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