Former manager Chuck Tanner passed away on Friday at the age of 82 after a long illness in New Castle, PA, his hometown. Tanner won a division title and a World Series championship as manager of the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates. He compiled an overall managerial record of 1,352-1,381 with the Chicago White Sox, Oakland A’s, Pirates and Atlanta Braves from 1970-88.
Tanner was also a Major League leftfielder for eight seasons from 1955-62. He originally signed the Boston Braves and played for the Milwaukee Braves, Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels. He became the first and only player in Milwaukee Braves history to hit a home run in his first career at bat on April 12, 1955. He finished his playing career with a .221 batting average with 21
homers and 105 RBI.
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Tanner’s one World Series came at the expense of the Baltimore Orioles. I was a teenager back then and a lifelong Orioles fan. Image my dismay when he and the underdog Pirates with a 39-year-old Willie Stargell roared back after being down 3-1 to rip the heart out of everyone in Maryland and this impressionable young Orioles fan. Even now whenever I hear “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge, that disco ditty that was adopted by the team I want to scream!
But I have mellowed in my old age and can now look back at some of the great accomplishments by Tanner. Before he managed the Pirates, Tanner was named The Sporting News Manager of the Year with the White Sox in 1972. In his only season with the post Reggie Jackson A’s in 1976, Tanner turned them into a track team. The A’s stole an American League record 341 bases with eight players swiping 20 or more and finished second in the AL West Division.
Tanner was actually traded to the Pirates for Manny Sanguillén in one of those unusual moves by eccentric A’s owner Charlie Finley in 1977. What was even more impressive (and annoying) about Tanner’s World Series triumph was that he did it without a pitcher with more than 14 wins or a position player with more than 94 runs batted in. Tanner ended up being the Fall Guy and was fired by the Pirates in 1985 in the aftermath of alleged drug use by some of his players in a nationally publicized trial in Pittsburgh. Tanner testified that he knew very little about his players using drugs.
I’ll take his word for it.
See how much of a forging guy I am?