02/11/11 10:04 PM EST
Tanner got everything out of the game he loved
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
"Chuck spent his life serving baseball in a variety of roles, and I am particularly glad that in recent years, he returned to the Pirates, the club with which he will be forever linked," Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest sympathy to Chuck's sons and the entire Tanner family, as well as to his many fans in Pittsburgh and throughout our game." Tanner had served as an advisor for the Pirates for the last three years. "Chuck was a class act who always carried himself with grace, humility and integrity," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said in a statement released by the club. "While no one had a sharper baseball mind, Chuck was loved by his players and the city of Pittsburgh because he was always positive, enthusiastic and optimistic about his Bucs and life in general. Chuck cared deeply about his players and their families. He focused on the positive attributes of the people who he encountered and made everyone around him better because of his optimism and energetic leadership." Tanner guided the Bucs to a 711-685 record from 1977-85 and the New Castle, Pa., native will always be remembered in the 'Burgh fondly for that '79 title. But that was not the full extent of his baseball career. While Tanner didn't flash All-Star credentials in his eight big league seasons as a player, D-backs special advisor Roland Hemond, who was a member of the Milwaukee Braves' front office when Tanner first made it to the Majors in 1955, said he'll always remember Tanner's first at-bat. "He hit his first big league home run for the Braves, pinch-hitting for Warren Spahn," Hemond said Friday. "When word filtered back to the Minor Leagues, coaches and managers were brought to tears. That's how happy they were for him. That's the kind of person he was." Hemond hired Tanner to manage in the Angels' system when he was the farm director there in the 1960s. The two of them were hired simultaneously by the White Sox in '70, when Tanner got his first Major League managerial opportunity. "This is a real tough day for me," Hemond said. "I've lost one of my all-time great friends. Chuck was a tremendous guy, a great person, just a sheer delight to be around. He was probably the most positive person I've ever been around. "He could help players be better than even they thought they could be, and he had a way of getting a team to perform better than it had any business performing." After five years with the White Sox, Tanner spent one with the A's. Then he joined his hometown Bucs in 1977 and found his true baseball home. Grant Jackson, a reliever for those Pirates clubs of the late 1970s, said he'll remember Tanner as one of the finest men he's met, on or off the field. "I have quite a few years in the game, and I played for quite a few great managers," Jackson said recently. "Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, Gene Mauch. Then came Chuck Tanner. I learned a lot from him. Not just how to play the game but how to treat people. I used to sit and listen to him talk, and a lot of things he said were true of life, but you never realize them until you hear them from somebody else and realize, 'This is the way I want to be.'" Tanner was viewed as the ultimate "player's manager," and that he took that approach without losing control of his team is a testament to his people skills. Phil Garner, who played for the 1979 Pirates and maintained a close connection with Tanner in the decades that followed, said that is Tanner's true legacy as a manager. "He would end all his scouting reports -- and we could be playing really good teams -- and he'd say, 'If these guys were any good, they'd be on our team,'" Garner recalled. "He always pumped guys up. He loved every player, no matter what. If you put on a uniform and played for Chuck Tanner, you were part of his family. Chuck loved everybody. It will show. People from all walks of life will come to pay tribute to Chuck Tanner." Garner actually played for Tanner with the Oakland A's in 1976 before being traded to the Pirates in Spring Training '77, reuniting him with Tanner. When Garner was managing the Astros from 2004-07, Tanner was a fixture in the visiting clubhouse before Astros games in Pittsburgh. "He never met a day he didn't like," Garner said. "His famous deal was you could get beat 15-0 in the worst conditions under the sun -- snowing, sleeting and hailing -- and he'd come in after the game and say it was great. He'd say, 'Just think what else we could be doing? Nothing else is as good as playing baseball.' We'd say, 'Yeah, right, Chuck,' but his attitude permeated everybody's spirit. Chuck loved life every day. You know when you saw Chuck Tanner, there wasn't going to be any sourpuss. No matter what he was doing in his life, he put it aside and was happy to see you." As a result of winning the 2005 National League pennant, Garner got to manage the NL in the '06 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh and named Tanner as the honorary coach of the game at Pittsburgh's PNC Park. He was in uniform and threw out the ceremonial first pitch. "It was one of those things that turned out to be better than I even thought it would," Garner said. "I thought it would be wonderful for Chuck to be able to do that and for me to do it for Chuck. In the end, it was gratifying for both of us. We couldn't shut him up. He was talking and telling stories and it was the absolute best experience I could have had at the All-Star Game." Those people skills clearly left an impact on people around the game. "He was a great person and really great for the game," said Blue Jays scout Mel Didier, who knew Tanner for over 50 years. "He was a sharp cookie. He really knew his baseball. He was like an ambassador to the game. After he stopped managing, he would sit down behind home plate with the other scouts signing autographs for the fans. He really loved baseball." He loved it so much that after his managerial career ended with the Braves in 1988, he carried on as a scout and advisor. He spent five years with the Indians in this capacity, and Tribe president Mark Shapiro said he has genuinely fond feelings for the way Tanner treated him when he was merely an intern. "I was just a kid answering the phone, but Chuck must have spent 15 minutes with me talking about baseball, my job and the Indians," Shapiro remembered. "I never forgot that. That first impression said everything about Chuck as the way someone treats someone who cannot help them in any way, and Chuck had a positive message for anyone he came across with a level of sincerity and warmth that was unparalleled. He was an inspirational person and his love for the game and life impacted anyone who knew him." Neal Huntington first met Tanner when he worked under Shapiro in the Indians' front office. And when he became GM of the Pirates in 2007, he asked Tanner to come along with him. "It was as easy decision to bring Chuck back into the Pirates' family," Bucs GM Neal Huntington said in a statement. "His impact on me personally and on us as an organization will be everlasting. His relentless optimism, strong baseball intelligence, desire to teach and attention for detail are some of the many traits we will work to carry on in his memory. We are proud to have had Chuck be a part of the Pirates once again. To honor Tanner and his lasting legacy, the Pirates announced that they will assist in the creation of the Chuck Tanner "We Are Family Fund," which will annually present an award to the Pirates Minor League staff person who best exemplifies Tanner's optimism, enthusiasm, work ethic and leadership. The Tanner family asked that, in lieu of flowers, a contribution be made to the fund, c/o Pirates Charities, 115 Federal Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. MLB.com reporters Steve Gilbert, T.R. Sullivan and Brian McTaggert contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.