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.

Javier Baez: “This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it.”

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Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.

While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.

Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”

He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”

Mike Trout proposes change to spring training umpiring

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Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.

According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”

Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.