This week, my look back on former Cub players, is going to be my first foray into the world of historical Cubs. In other words, Cub players who are no longer playing. Up to this point I had only profiled former Cub players who are still playing professional baseball. This week that all changes. I have avoided this for the first few weeks for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that I often feel like I may not do justice to some of these guys. I grew up watching a lot of the 70s and 80s Cubs and there is a bit of reticence on my part to write about some of the guys that I deified as a kid. I also wanted to avoid what I felt would be some obvious choices that have probably been done in articles like these hundreds of times over.
So my first adventure for a former non-playing Cub is none other than Bobby Keith Moreland (your welcome Matt!).
Yes, you read that right everybody. The guy that you may have known only as Keith Moreland, is really Bobby Keith Moreland. Not Robert Keith, but Bobby Keith. After all, Moreland was a born and bred Texan and where else can you find nicknames like Bo, Red, and Bubba on actual birth certificates. Not to mention the whole dual first name theme of the South. Because of his Texas roots Bobby Keith’s attending UT was probably a pretty natural progression for an athlete of his talents. Back in those days, not a lot of players ventured far from their state schools, and especially not in Texas. Moreland would do more than just play at the University of Texas. He would star there, and fast. His Longhorns were national champs. I say “His Longhorns”, because he was the co-captain of that 56-6 championship team, as a freshman in 1973. As a stud third baseman for the Longhorns Moreland would post a career collegiate batting average of .388 and hit .410 in his final year with the Longhorns in 1975. Later that same year he was drafted in the 7thround of the amateur draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Moreland’s rise through the Phillies farm system was slow and steady, his offensive skills were good but he was never known for his defense. A fact that was later immortalized in song by the late Steve Goodman. I don’t know if playing third base in an organization that had a young Mike Schmidt prompted Moreland’s position change, but he switched from 3rd base to catcher sometime in 1977. Although playing behind Bob Boone and Tim McCarver didn’t make things much easier for Moreland’s progress into the big leagues. In 1978, Moreland did make his major league debut, replacing 3rdstring catcher Bob Foote for 4 innings in the final game of the regular season. Not only was it a short-lived trip up, it was also uneventful. Moreland would spend another season playing a majority of his ball in AAA during 1979. Moreland would finally break through 1980 as the primary backup catcher after the Phillies released the aging McCarver. He went on to be the primary backup catcher and helped the Phillies win the world series that year. After one more season as a part-timer with the defending champion Phillies, Moreland would come over to the Cubs by way of a trade for the 1982 season.
Not coincidentally new Cubs GM and former Phillies manager, Dallas Green, made the trade that brought Moreland over to the Cubs. The plan was to make Keith Moreland the Cub’s new starting catcher. I had really started to like Jody Davis during that time, and I wasn’t too sure I liked Moreland as his possible replacement. As luck would have it, Moreland was even worse defensively than Davis himself, yet much like Davis his offense warranted playing time. Eventually Davis would win the battle for the starting catchers job and the Cubs found a place for Moreland in the outfielder Moreland would then spend his next six years as a Cub playing as an occasional utility type backup player, with a majority of his games played in the outfield. Which was great for me, because I may never have grown to like Moreland as much as I did if he had beat out Davis at the catcher position. As it was, I grew to like them both pretty equally. Because they seemed cut from the same cloth. They were both tough and gritty ball players, who played the game in the older style of hard, fast, and dirty. I mean that in terms of always being willing to get dirty, versus playing dirty, but Moreland was also willing to rough it up a bit too. He was, after all from Texas, where football is more religion than sport and Moreland played a year of football during his time at Texas. His fiery disposition matched that flaming red hair (and beard) and he was not to be taken lightly when trying to turn a double play against him or deciding to plunk someone. Moreland stood his ground and played with Cubbie pride.
I specifically remember Moreland as a workhorse. His 150 game per-season average with the Cubs stands as proof of his durability and being from that bygone sporting era that knew the difference between being hurt and being injured. All in all, Moreland was a guy who was simply seemed to love being a baseball player. Not a star, or a big shot. Just a guy who went out and did whatever the team asked of him. To play wherever he had to, to bat wherever he was penciled in, and do the best he could. I really remember Moreland as one of the ultimate team players that I have ever witnessed play for the Cubs. A guy who ended his career without gold gloves, all-star game appearances, and all of the other awards and individual accolades that many players play for these days. Moreland never appeared to be one of those individualistic guys. He simply played the game of baseball, the way that it is supposed to be played. I will always remember him as a key cog in the 1984 year that almost was, and as one of a very bright spots in the ’85 season that followed. The 1985 season was the only one in Moreland’s career where he actually received some notoriety outside of Wrigley, when he finished 17th in MVP voting.
Even though Moreland won his championship with the Phillies, and would eventually move on to end his career outside the Cubs organization, I can only think that we Cubs fans were lucky. We got the best of the baseball that Keith Moreland had to offer, and he gave it to us with everything he had.
As we drive on, that’s my look Through The Rear View.