February 12, 2011
Chuck Tanner, the veteran manager who led the "We Are Family" Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979 to one of the greatest comebacks in World Series history, died Friday at his home in his hometown of New Castle, Pa., after a long illness. He was 82.
Tanner managed the Chicago White Sox, Oakland Athletics, Pirates and Atlanta Braves to a record of 1,352-1,381 from 1970 to 1988. He won one division title and finished second five times.
In the '79 Series, with Pittsburgh behind favored Baltimore three games to one and facing possible elimination in Game 5 at Pittsburgh, Tanner awoke to learn his mother had died in a nursing home in New Castle.
Saying she would have wanted him to do his job, Tanner stayed with his team. The Pirates, led by aging star Willie Stargell, went on to sweep the final three games.
After retiring from managing, Tanner remained involved with the Pirates, most recently serving as a senior advisor to General Manager Neal Huntington.
A former major league outfielder, Tanner managed the White Sox from 1970 to '75, transforming Rich "Goose" Gossage into one of the premier closers of his era. Tanner was one of the first managers to use relievers in situational roles, as all teams do today.
Let go when owner Bill Veeck reacquired the White Sox, Tanner quickly hooked up with the A's. With Reggie Jackson gone and home runs at a premium, Tanner turned the 1976 A's loose for an American League record 341 stolen bases, an average of more than two a game.
Coveting Tanner, the Pirates made one of the few trades involving a manager in major league history to obtain his contract.
In 1979, despite having front-line starters Bert Blyleven and John Candelaria, the Pirates didn't have a starting pitcher with more than 14 wins that season or a position player with more than 94 RBIs. Still, the team's chemistry was undeniable.
Led by the 39-year-old Stargell's clutch hitting (32 homers, 82 RBIs), the team adopted a popular song of the time by Sister Sledge to become known as the Family.
Tanner was fired by the Pirates in the aftermath of widely publicized Pittsburgh trials of alleged drug suppliers to major leaguers in 1985. Tanner testified that he had only a cursory knowledge of drug use by his players.
He was quickly hired by Braves owner Ted Turner but was fired after going 153-208 in two-plus seasons in Atlanta.
Tanner was born July 4, 1928, according to public records. He was best known for homering on the first pitch of his first at-bat for Milwaukee in 1955. He hit .261 with 21 homers in 396 games as an outfielder with the Braves, Cubs, Indians and Angels.
Survivors include four sons, Mark, Gary, Brent and Bruce.
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