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.