By Craig Muder
When I was 10 years old, Chuck Tanner could do no wrong.
Tanner, who passed away Friday, was the first manager of my childhood. I have no memories of Bill Virdon or Danny Murtaugh, who both led my Pirates to the postseason in the 1970s. But starting in 1977, Tanner was the leader of my team.
He always looked at the bright side.
The Bucs fell short of the 1978 National League East title after a spirited stretch run. Tanner kept smiling.
His mother passed away just before Game 5 of the 1979 World Series – with the Pirates down 3-1. Tanner kept going.
The Lumber Company teams of the 1970s got older, and the Bucs fell out of contention in the 1980s. Tanner kept believing.
The 1985 Pirates lost 104 games with a lineup more ancient than their manager. Tanner kept pushing.
Finally, he was let go after that terrible ’85 season. He spent the next three years with the Braves, then returned home to New Castle, Pa., unofficially serving as the Pirates’ number one fan.
After so many years of watching Tanner do a pretty convincing impersonation of Norman Vincent Peale, it was easy to peg him as an eternal optimist. But Tanner was so much more.
- A decent big league outfielder, who homered on the first major league pitch he ever saw and played for eight seasons
- A super-intense young manager with the White Sox, who kept the Pale Hose competitive throughout the early 1970s
- A visionary of bullpen use, who was credited by Hall of Famer Goose Gossage for shaping his career
- And a World Series winner, who led a diverse 1979 Pirates team to a glorious championship
But for me, it’s much simpler. Chuck Tanner will always be the manager – the first one I remember, and the one everyone else is judged against.
Somewhere, someone is smiling right now – thinking of Chuck Tanner. Who could ask for a better legacy.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.