Saturday, February 12, 2011

Chuck Tanner: The Last World Series Manager That Mattered

Yesterday, Major League Baseball lost a unique player, marvelous manager, and an incredible man.

Rest in Peace Charles William Tanner.

Welcomed to this world in New Castle, PA on the 4th of July in 1928, Chuck Tanner was born to be a baseball man. A left-handed and hitting left-fielder, Chuck Tanner recorded a unique feat. On April 12, 1955, in his first at-bat for the Braves, Chuck Tanner laced a home run in Milwaukee. It was a statistic that would be remembered countless times, and duly so.

After a journeyman career, Tanner transitioned to a managerial career, starting in 1963 in the minor leagues. In 1970 his Major League Managerial career began with the Chicago White Sox. He piloted that team for five years before being fired. He immediately was hired by Oakland in 1976. His team recorded a ML record 341 stolen bases that year but Chuck didn't impress.

In another one of the most unique twists in Major League history, Chuck Tanner—a manager—was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Two years later, Tanner's “We Are Family” Bucs, lead by Wilver Dornell Stargell, won the World Series when Omar Moreno snagged a rather routine fly-ball in Baltimore.

Baseball in Pittsburgh has not been the same since.

Tanner had his share of ups-and-downs in the remaining six seasons of his Pirates career. He was let go for young Jim Leyland and moved on to Atlanta for three more seasons. Tanner's major league managerial career was 1,352 and 1,381.

In the years since, Tanner had been a regular site at Three Rivers Stadium, and then PNC Park. Most recently, Tanner was a Senior Advisor to management. He could be seen leaving the ball park early, taller than you might expect, thin and always in a good mood.

As a kid, Chuck Tanner was seen exclusively as a good man and a fantastic motivator. When Phil Garner, then the manager of the Houston Astros, managed the National League All-Stars in the game at PNC, he chose Chuck to be a special guest coach. Tanner also threw out a ceremonial first pitch.

A couple of years ago, I'd see Chuck leave PNC Park. One day in particular I excitedly saw him talk with the ticket takers near the Home Plate Gate, as I worked Security just outside the gate. I was impressed that a “Big League” personality by any gauge, was talking to the part-time workers in red vests. I couldn't imagine Tony LaRussa or Lou Pinella (who also was traded once as a manager) talk to the riff-raff at the ball park.

Then Chuck Tanner came my way.

“Hello Mr. Tanner, how are you?”

“I'm good. How are you?”

Chuck stopped in his tracks.

I extended my hand and he shook it.

“Do you know what I refer to you as,” I asked.

He looked inquisitive and smiled.

I smiled broadly back to him.

“You are the manager of the last World Series team THAT MATTERED.”

With that, Chuck Tanner registered the words. And smiled ever more broadly.

As I remember, he reached out and put his left hand on my shoulder.

Chuck Tanner then laughed with me and said, “Thank you.”

It was a light-hearted moment between two guys who loved the Pittsburgh Pirates.

At that moment, Chuck Tanner treated me like a friend.

Just like he has countless other baseball fans. They too were his friends.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, one of the most storied teams in the history of all baseball, lost one of its most storied managers. A true leader. A Man. Rest in Peace Chuck Tanner. And thanks.

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