Chuck Tanner: 1929-2011

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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.

Josh Harrison wants out of Pittsburgh

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In the wake of the Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole trades, Pirates infielder Josh Harrison released a statement to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic today in which he said he’d like to be traded if the Pirates are going to rebuild over the next couple of years.

Harrison said “If indeed the team does not expect to contend this year or next, perhaps it would be better for all involved, that I also am traded,” He couched it all in is love of Pittsburgh and his desire to win in Pittsburgh, adding “I want what is best for the organization that gave me a chance to be a Big Leaguer,” but he said “I just lost two of my closest friends in the game. Cole and Cutch were not just friends, they were the best pitcher and best position player on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Now, I am the most tenured member of the Pirates, I want to win, I want to contend, I want to win championships in 2018, 2019 and beyond.”

Harrison is under team control on a very team-friendly contract that has him signed through 2018 and with the Pirates holding pretty cheap team options for 2019 and 2020. He’ll make $10 million this year and if the Pirates want to keep him they’ll owe him $10.5 million in 2019 and $11.5 million in 2020, with $1 million and $500,000 buyouts, respectively. Harrison played second, third and in the outfield in 2017 and hit .272/.339/.432 with 16 homers and 12 stolen bases.

Part of Harrison’s statement included the phrase “baseball is a business.” That is correct, and when Harrison signed his deal he had to know that the Pirates could blow things up, trade him or anything else during its term. That’s simply a risk one runs when one agrees to a deal that buys out free agency years. At the same time, it can’t be at all fun to be part of a tear-down process the likes of which is now getting underway in Pittsburgh, and it’d be hard to say any of us would feel differently than Harrison does if we were in his shoes.

All of that said, Harrison may very well get his wish. Rosenthal writes that the Mets, Yankees, and Brewers are among the teams with reported interest in Harrison. There are probably way more who would make a good offer for him given his versatility and given how often recent World Series winners have featured a player with exactly that kind of versatility (think Ben Zobrist and Marwin Gonzalez).

My guess is that he’s either going to be dealt now or at the deadline this coming season.