Chuck Tanner – 1987 Topps

January 27, 2011

The Sad Demise Of A Clueless Manager

Chuck Tanner was well-liked by his players. And why not? He basically let them do what they wanted to. He won a World Series in Pittsburgh, and got the White Sox off of the mat and into the first division.

But then, well, there was the Pittsburgh locker room where Tanner either willfully looked away or was just outright ignorant about drugs – even with players like Rod Scurry and Dale Berra running around coked up.

And then there’s his stint in Atlanta.

He became well known first as manager of the White Sox. They were moribund, and perhaps on the verge of moving to Milwaukee (before the Pilots went bust). Tanner used the arm of Wilbur Wood and the bats of Bill Melton and then Dick Allen to rebuild the franchise. He broke in players like Jorge Orta, Bucky Dent and Brian Downing into the big leagues.

But at what cost? Tanner tried to use a three-man starting staff at times of Wood, Jim Kaat and Stan Bahnsen. Before then Bart Johnson and Tom Bradley were pitched into the ground. His lack of ‘rules’ for Allen backfired on him in 1974. The team floundered at about .500 and then went back to their losing ways, sans Allen  in 1975.

Fired by the Sox, he then went to the Oakland A’s circus. The 1976 A’s were chock full of drama. They had lost Catfish Hunter to free agency thanks to an arbitrator, and everyone in the room knew that most all of the players that were part of the A’s dynasty were as good as gone as soon as they were allowed to play out their option. So it was the last hurrah.

Compound that with Charlie O. Finley going absolutely bonkers on his pinch running idea, and running in general, and then the loss of Vida Blue, Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers for two weeks, Tanner did a good job keeping the A’s in the race all season.

Then he was traded (yes traded) to Pittsburgh where he inherited a great team and managed them well for the first few years. He got at bats for Bill Robinson and Mike Easler, broke in Ed Ott and Don Robinson and got the bullpen and rotation humming along.

Then, the money and the cocaine happened, and Tanner couldn’t capitalize on his success. Plus, he remained loyal to dead weight like Berra, Bill Madlock and Omar Moreno and then force fed Marvell Wynne and Sammy Khalifa into the bigs. When they hit bottom, they cratered big time. They were 11th in runs scored and 10th in ERA. They had no power, and the only players with on-base skills were the slugger (Jason Thompson) or a total slappy (Joe Orsulak, who had an OPS+ of 99 even with a .342 OBP).

But Tanner had a rep, Ted Turner had the cash, and off he went to Atlanta in 1986.

Turner had fired Joe Torre after an 80-82 record in 1984. Eddie Haas didn’t even last one season; he was fired and Bobby Wine too over as the 1985 Braves ended at 66-96.

In looking at the 1985 Braves, they gave too many at bats to players with no or limited offensive skills, had kids that didn’t come through, and had pitchers that fell apart due to drug abuse, arm woes, or ineptitude.

There was no reason to be optimistic about 1986, but hey, Tanner had successfully launched some players in the bigs – and the players like him. Why not?

They were better in 1986, but 6 1/2 games better only. Chuck thought by just saying good things to Raffy Ramirez, Glenn Hubbard and Andres Thomas, then they’d learn to hit. He thought that Omar Moreno should lead off because he was fast. Rick Mahler wanted the ball every four days, so why not start him 39 times?

The offense was better in 1987, even though Andres Thomas still existed, but the bullpen fell apart and Tanner couldn’t fix it by hoping Gene Garber would turn it around. It went from bad to worse to egregious in 1988, and Tanner was fired. He wasn’t hired again.

He could be given a grace year in 1986 – but in 1987 he should have realized that Thomas and Ramirez and Hubbard were too much of a bad thing, and just thrown it over to Jeff Blauser to play shortstop. He should have realized that you couldn’t win with no power at first base or third and that Gerald Perry’s 42 steals do no good when he can’t get on base consistently. And a last place team doesn’t need to have Ken Griffey Sr., Ted Simmons, Gary Roenicke and Graig Nettles hanging around.

He didn’t question or push anything – he just went along with what was going on – whether it was stealing bases every 5 seconds, or going with a 3-man rotation, or playing an entire team of middle infielders. Why not – if we think it’ll work it should, right?

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