Chuck Tanner

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Charles William Tanner

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Biographical Information[edit]

"It's hard to win a pennant, but it's harder losing one." - Chuck Tanner

Chuck Tanner, known best as a manager for 20 years in the major leagues, was also a major league outfielder who played 6 seasons with a .261 average.

Playing career[edit]

Signed by the Boston Braves in 1946, he didn't make it to the majors until 1955. He played four seasons for the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association, hitting over .300 each year and helping them to win the Dixie Series in 1954.

In 1955, when he finally came to the majors, he hit .247 in 97 games as the fourth outfielder for the Milwaukee Braves. In his debut, he hit a homer on the first major league pitch thrown to him. The Braves were 1957 World Series champs, but Tanner was picked up on waivers in June of that year by the Chicago Cubs. Between the two teams, he had the most at-bats of his career, 387, hitting .279 with 19 doubles and 9 home runs. Soon after he arrived, he and Ernie Banks hit inside-the-park home runs in the same game at Forbes Field. Tanner was a regular in the outfield for the Cubs in the second half of 1957, but in 1958 he was used by them mostly as a pinch-hitter, hitting .262 with a .437 slugging percentage.

He had a series of brief appearances in 1959-1962 with the Cleveland Indians and the Los Angeles Angels.

"There I am standing with my teammates, the great Henry Aaron, who was receiving the N.L. Most Valuable Player award and another baseball great, Warren Spahn, who had won the Cy Young award. It was like a dream come true for me." - Chuck Tanner, talking about his rookie year

Managerial career[edit]

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Chuck Tanner managed 8 years in the Los Angeles/California Angels chain from 1963 to 1970, before taking over the Chicago White Sox in 1970. He managed the Quad Cities Angels (1963-1964), El Paso Sun Kings (1965-1966 and 1968), Seattle Angels (1967), and Hawaii Islanders (1969-1970), winning the Texas League title with El Paso in 1968. With the White Sox, he was famous for his handling of Dick Allen, allowing plenty of space for his outsized personality. Allen responded with one of his best seasons in 1972, winning the AL MVP Award and putting Chicago in the middle of the AL West pennant race. Tanner was also famous for his handling of pitchers in Chicago, using a three-man rotation around knuckleballer Wilbur Wood, and workhorses Stan Bahnsen and Tom Bradley; all of them started over 40 games in 1972, with the team's fourth starter, Dave Lemonds, getting only 18 starts. Tanner won the Manager of the Year Award that year and used variations of this scheme over the next two seasons, but with much less success. Allen missing half of the 1973 season with injuries, then quitting in September 1974 while leading the AL in home runs did not help either. Tanner is also known for rushing young fireballers Rich Gossage and Terry Forster to the majors during his tenure, and turning both into feared relief pitchers.

Tanner managed one year with the Oakland Athletics in 1976, replacing the pennant-winning Alvin Dark who had left after having had too much of owner Charles Finley's antics. Tanner's team set a modern major league record with 341 stolen bases that year; his teams would all be characterized by their reliance on speed over the next few years. The Athletics had lost star pitcher Catfish Hunter to free agency before the season, and had been forced to trade slugger Reggie Jackson and workhorse starting pitcher Ken Holtzman to the Baltimore Orioles, but still managed to finish within 2 ½ games of the pennant-winning Kansas City Royals. This is even more remarkable as Finley, seeing free agency coming, tried to sell pitchers Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers and outfielder Joe Rudi - probably his three best players - to other teams in mid-season. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, in one of the boldest moves of his tenure, voided the sales in the name of the "best interests of baseball". Finley was livid and ordered Tanner to bench the three players for a time, out of spite. Without these distractions, Tanner might have been able to pull off a sixth-straight division title for the Athletics. As expected, the Athletics were torn apart by free agency after the season, and Tanner himself was traded (as a manager) along with cash to the Pittsburgh Pirates for catcher Manny Sanguillen.

From 1977 to 1985, he managed the Pirates, achieving immortality in 1979 with the "We are Family" World Series champions. "Having Willie Stargell on your ball club is like having a diamond ring on your finger," Tanner would later be quoted as saying. In fact, Stargell's late-career renaissance did inspire a talented team to hold off the young Montreal Expos, who finished the year with the best record in franchise history. The pennant race went down to the wire, with the Pirates only securing the division title on the season's last day. They then swept the Cincinnati Reds in the NLCS and fought back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to overcome the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, with Stargell hitting a key home run in Game 7. The 1979 season is also remarkable for Tanner's bullpen usage. In an approach foreshadowing what would become common in the 1990s, he used a tag-team of relievers to take him from a 6th or 7th inning lead to victory: Grant Jackson pitched in 72 games, Enrique Romo in 84 and Kent Tekulve in a league-leading 94, the three highest appearance totals in the National League. Often, all three would appear in a single game, each pitching one inning, a revolutionary approach at the time.

The Pirates never managed to repeat this success, with Stargell's age catching up with him in 1980 and superstar outfielder Dave Parker going into a mid-career drug-induced tailspin. A disastrous trade of pitcher Bert Blyleven to the Cleveland Indians for a package of marginal players did not help either, and by the second half of the 1981 split-season, the Pirates were battling the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs to stay out of the NL East cellar. This was the height of baseball's "drug crisis" and Pittsburgh was at the eye of the storm, with the clubhouse becoming a center of cocaine consumption and dealing, involving a slew of players and even the team mascot. All of this information would come into the public domain in the 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials a few years later, and Tanner's reputation who be seriously tainted as the man in charge who claimed he was unaware of the maelstrom swirling around him. Tanner did manage to rally the Pirates for one more competitive season in 1983, when solid pitching led by John Candelaria, Larry McWilliams, Rick Rhoden and Jose DeLeon put them in a pennant race that no team in the NL East seemed good enough to win; they finished in second place, six games back of the Philadelphia Phillies who rode a September surge into the World Series, but that was a last hurrah. The 1984 and 1985 teams both finished last, the latter with a dismal 57-104 record, and Tanner lost his job.

In spite of the bad taste left by the drug trials, Chuck Tanner was hired to manage the Atlanta Braves in 1986, a job he kept until 1988. The team finished twice in sixth place and once in fifth during his tenure. Tanner was criticized for loading his teams with washed-up veterans at the time, but in his defense, the Braves' organization was at a low ebb and was not producing much young talent. He was criticized vehemently by Bill James in the Baseball Abstract during those years for his role in the Pittsburgh scandals, which James saw as the result of a "live and let live" approach run amok, and for his unrepentant attitude. In any case, his lack of success in Atlanta meant that no further job offers were forthcoming after his inevitable firing partway through the 1988 season.

Tanner was a special assistant to the General Manager for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1992 to 2002, then spent five years scouting for the Cleveland Indians. He returned to the Pirates in 2008 as a Senior Advisor to GM Neal Huntington.

His son Bruce Tanner appeared in the major leagues, while anther son, Mark Tanner, pitched in the minors. His grandson, Jordan Tanner, was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 40th round of the 2007 amateur draft. His first baseball card appearance was in the 1955 Topps set. He died in his hometown of New Castle, PA, aged 82, in 2011.

Notable Achievements[edit]

Preceded by
Bill Adair
Chicago White Sox Manager
Succeeded by
Paul Richards
Preceded by
Alvin Dark
Oakland Athletics Manager
Succeeded by
Jack McKeon
Preceded by
Danny Murtaugh
Pittsburgh Pirates Manager
Succeeded by
Jim Leyland
Preceded by
Bobby Wine
Atlanta Braves Manager
Succeeded by
Russ Nixon

Year-by-Year Managerial Record[edit]

Year Team League Record Finish Organization Playoffs Notes
1963 Quad Cities Angels Midwest League 66-57 3rd Los Angeles Angels none
1964 Quad Cities Angels Midwest League 62-56 3rd Los Angeles Angels
1965 El Paso Sun Kings Texas League 53-87 6th California Angels
1966 El Paso Sun Kings Texas League 62-78 5th California Angels
1967 Seattle Angels Pacific Coast League 69-79 10th California Angels
1968 El Paso Sun Kings Texas League 77-60 2nd California Angels League Champs
1969 Hawaii Islanders Pacific Coast League 74-72 4th California Angels
1970 Hawaii Islanders Pacific Coast League 98-48 1st California Angels Lost League Finals
Chicago White Sox American League 3-13 6th Chicago White Sox replaced Don Gutteridge (49-87) and
Bill Adair (4-6) on September 18
1971 Chicago White Sox American League 79-83 3rd Chicago White Sox
1972 Chicago White Sox American League 87-67 2nd Chicago White Sox
1973 Chicago White Sox American League 77-85 5th Chicago White Sox
1974 Chicago White Sox American League 80-80 4th Chicago White Sox
1975 Chicago White Sox American League 75-86 5th Chicago White Sox
1976 Oakland Athletics American League 87-74 2nd Oakland Athletics
1977 Pittsburgh Pirates National League 96-66 2nd Pittsburgh Pirates
1978 Pittsburgh Pirates National League 88-73 2nd Pittsburgh Pirates
1979 Pittsburgh Pirates National League 98-64 1st Pittsburgh Pirates World Series Champs
1980 Pittsburgh Pirates National League 83-79 3rd Pittsburgh Pirates
1981 Pittsburgh Pirates National League 46-56 4th Pittsburgh Pirates
1982 Pittsburgh Pirates National League 84-78 4th Pittsburgh Pirates
1983 Pittsburgh Pirates National League 84-78 2nd Pittsburgh Pirates
1984 Pittsburgh Pirates National League 75-86 6th Pittsburgh Pirates
1985 Pittsburgh Pirates National League 57-104 6th Pittsburgh Pirates
1986 Atlanta Braves National League 72-89 6th Atlanta Braves
1987 Atlanta Braves National League 69-92 5th Atlanta Braves
1988 Atlanta Braves National League 12-27 -- Atlanta Braves replaced by Russ Nixon on May 24

Further Reading[edit]

  • Dan Fields: "Chuck Tanner", in Gregory H. Wolf, ed.: Thar's Joy in Braveland: The 1957 Milwaukee Braves, SABR, Phoenix, AZ, 2014, pp. 198-202. ISBN 978-1933599717
  • Chuck Tanner (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, November 1980, pp. 50-52. [1]

Related Sites[edit]