Chuck Tanner: Remembering an Icon

From his MLB debut with the Milwaukee Braves in April of 1955, to the 2006 season when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch (and was asked to be a special-guest coach) in that year’s All-Star Game, Chuck Tanner’s life was devoted to his two passions: baseball, and family.

His crowning moment came—with the help of Hall of Famer, first-baseman, and legend Willie Stargell, as well as the help of pitcher and future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven—when Tanner managed the Pittsburgh Pirates to a World Series Championship in 1979.  Fittingly, the Pirates rallied from a three games to one deficit to defeat the Baltimore Orioles for the title, and did so to the tune of the team’s theme song: Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family”.

Chuck Tanner was born outside Pittsburgh, in New Castle, PA, on the 4th of July, 1928, and passed away yesterday, February 11th, 2011, in his home of New Castle, at the age of 82, after a long, hard-fought bought with an illness.  After a 7-year career in the Majors (from 1955 to 1962), Tanner became a Major League manager eight years later, and would go on to manage four different teams—over 18 years—, serving as Manager for over 2,700 MLB games.

But there was something special about Chuck Tanner: it was noticeable from the first time he stepped up to a plate in a Major League game.  On April 12, 1955, Chuck Tanner became the only man in the abbreviated history of the Milwaukee Braves to hit a home run in his first career at-bat.

In 1979, when Tanner and the “We Are Family”-driven Pirates rallied past the Orioles to become World Series Champions, Hall of Fame Manager Sparky Anderson wrote of the Pirates: “They do everything with abandon, because that’s the way Chuck Tanner wants it.  He’s an aggressive manager, a manager who doesn’t go by the book.  That’s why Pittsburgh is such an exciting team.”

Chuck Tanner may have finally succumbed to his illness yesterday, and the baseball universe is suddenly not as bright as it was the day before, but Tanner will live on in the lore of both the Pittsburgh Pirates as well as in the memories of New Castle, PA.  Undoubtedly, it is the ultimate credit to the memory of Chuck Tanner that his name will forever be associated with the words “We are family”.

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