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Chuck Tanner: 1929-2011

Feb 11, 2011, 3:19 PM EDT

Portrait of Baseball Manager Chuck Tanner Posing Against the Blue Sky

Former White Sox, A’s, Pirates and Braves manager Chuck Tanner has died. He was 81.

Tanner bounced around the majors as a player from the mid-to-late 50s, but he’ll be remembered as a manager. Perhaps the most quintessential “player’s manager”  of all time.  This served him well for the most part.  He got his start with the Chicago White Sox, where he had more success managing Dick Allen than anyone else ever did.

His most famous stint as a skipper came managing the “we are family” Pirates to the 1979 World Series crown.  Only a manager as well-liked and as easy going as Tanner could allow a player to take such a prominent leadership position with the team as Willie Stargell did without it either (a) causing some friction someplace; or (b) resulting in the manager himself being marginalized or having ego problems.  Stargell gets a ton of credit for all of that — as he should, because Stargell was supremely awesome — but Tanner’s ability to create an environment in which that dynamic could thrive is an often overlooked thing.  The 1979 Pirates implode if Billy Martin is in charge of that bunch.

But there are two sides to every coin, and the other side of Tanner’s player-friendliness was evident in what can only be described as his tragic obliviousness when it came to cocaine.  Coke was baseball’s scourge in the late 70s through the mid-80s, but the Pirates were on another level altogether.  As many former players testified in the famous 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials, cocaine dealers had free access to Three Rivers Stadium and the Pirates’ clubhouse.  Chuck Tanner, in contrast, testified that no one who was unauthorized was ever there and that he had never seen a thing.  Was he still trying — even after leaving Pittsburgh — to protect and stand up for his players?  Was he just oblivious?  It’s hard to say anything about it other than that most everyone believes that Tanner meant well, even if his lack of attention to what was going on in his clubhouse was ultimately tragic.

Tanner went on to manage the Braves from 1986 through 1988. It was a dark time for the Braves competitively. There was so little talent around in those days that no manager could have done much with those teams.  Then, as was always the case, people spoke well of Chuck Tanner the man.

Everyone always spoke well of Chuck Tanner. Rest in peace, skipper.

  1. Mac Thomason - Feb 11, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    “Sometimes I think Chuck Tanner should be hanged in effigy in every ballpark in the country.” — Bill James

    • hermitfool - Feb 11, 2011 at 3:34 PM

      Who do you suppose will be eventually identified as the Chuck Tanners of the PED era? It mIght require a lot of rope.

      • thelucasjj - Feb 11, 2011 at 4:02 PM

        Tony Larusa seems to fit the bill.

  2. spudchukar - Feb 11, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    Maybe not the classiest time to use that quote. Should be championed for bringing managing to managing. He will be missed.

    • florida76 - Feb 11, 2011 at 10:57 PM

      Agreed, we must remember drugs were everywhere in MLB during the 1980s. If we are going to slam Tanner, then we must criticize Whitey Herzog(Kansas City Drug Trial), and virtually every manager during that era.

      By all accounts, this was a good man, and a world championship manager. The national reports of his death contain only a small portion about the 1985 drug issue, as they should.

  3. thelucasjj - Feb 11, 2011 at 4:06 PM

    I am down to the last bit of “The Pittsburgh Cocaine Seven”. It doesn’t discuss to much of Tanner but it is a real in-depth look at what went on while he was there. Hopefully he can be remembered more for what came before all of that mess.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Feb 11, 2011 at 4:08 PM

      I think the guy who gave the third blub on the back cover of that book is really handsome.

      • thelucasjj - Feb 11, 2011 at 4:21 PM

        Since the book is in my car while I am work, I will have to take your word for it. However, for your sake, I hope that you opted to use your twitter picture. :-)

    • florida76 - Feb 11, 2011 at 8:42 PM

      Any uninformed fan who thinks Chuck Tanner should be remembered for the drug trials, has a tenuous grip on reality. Unfortunately, sports had many drug users in the 70s and 80s. Kansas City also had a drug trial, but where is the book on that one?

      To try and go back a quarter century and nail someone about what they did or didn’t see is ridiculous. Without evidence we’ll only talking about speculation. Yes, several of those players on the early 80s teams were doing drugs, same thing with the Royals, etc.

      Chuck Tanner’s legacy is intact, a good man, and fine manager who led his team to a world title.

  4. schmedley69 - Feb 11, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    Wow, very weird. I was watching a retrospective of the 1979 season the other night on MLB Network and wondered to myself if Chuck was still around. Too bad. The 1979 World Series was the first that I remember watching. Two colorful teams with colorful uniforms. RIP, Chuck.

  5. Panda Claus - Feb 11, 2011 at 6:45 PM

    C’mon now Craig, show this man some respect! The man contributed quite a bit to baseball and the best pic you can come up with is one with that godawful chimney cleaner’s cap? What an atrocity.

    On the other hand, it is a good look with Chuck smiling. Can someone photoshop a real hat onto this shot?

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