A Phillies Fan Remembers a Great Rival with All Due Respect
BOCA RATON (Special to TSD) Former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Chuck Tanner has died. He was 82.
As a kid he was our rival. Being a lifelong Phillies fan, we loved to hate the Pirates, but we respected the Pirates, even admired them. We don’t have the same kind of “love to hate” attitude with the Mets – or respect. It’s different. The Pirates were different. Sure, they were the bad guys, but you just had to appreciate them as a team.
There was Willie “Pops” Stargell, Dave “Cobra” Parker, Omar Moreno, and others. Cheering them on in the dugout was the optimist – Chuck Tanner. Always smiling even when he was furious it seemed, Tanner was an old fashioned manager, a players manager, and a class act. I think he’s a major reason why we loved to hate the Pirates.
Tanner was the guy who took over for longtime on again-off again Buccos skipper Danny Murtaugh. Even his arrival in Pittsburgh was newsworthy. After six solid seasons as the manager of the Chicago White Sox and earning the respect of controversial slugger Dick Allen (not an easy task), Tanner found himself in Oakland for the 1976 season, turning the Swingin’ A’s into the Runnin’ A’s when the club swiped a still Major League record 341 bases. The following season he was part of A’s owner Charles O. Finley’s fire sale as he was actually traded to the Pirates for hard hitting catcher Manny Sanguillen.
The Pirates finished second to the Phillies in 1976. They could do no better under Tanner in 1977 and 1978. But in 1979, something happened. The Phillies had added the missing piece to the puzzle, Pete Rose. But injuries and down seasons from several key players saw the Phillies tumble to fourth in the competitive National League East. The Pirates won the division and a playoff with the Cincinnati Reds. They found themselves down three games to one in the World Series against the favored Baltimore Orioles. But Tanner didn’t give up.
His team scratched and clawed their way to three straight wins, and the “We Are Family” Pirates were crowned World Champs in 1979.
I was not happy about it. Seeing your chief rival win a championship is not an easy thing to take, especially when you’re a kid. But Chuck Tanner was respectful and cheerful throughout and you had to admire that. He never bad mouthed other teams, he just believed he could beat other teams, and he did.
He was a worthy opponent. His teams were exciting. They were a reflection of his enthusiasm. They exuded what is good about baseball. Something you have to admire and respect. And as a Phillies fan, you had to respect the man in black and gold in the opposing dugout.
I guess I’m being a little selfish when I think about my sorrow – a bit melancholy perhaps – because another piece of my childhood died when Chuck Tanner died.
No. Wrong sentiment. This was a man we loved to hate. Some Phillies fans would say we hate to love him. But maybe we do a little, because of the memories he helped give us on those distant summer nights of our youth.