It intrigues me that none of the obituaries for Chuck Tanner touched on four of the best seasons of his baseball life, all spent in Atlanta—where sadly he came to the end of his run in uniform. Yes, he had passed this way before and it looked as if he’d never find the exit.
From 1946 to 1950, he had done time from Pawtucket to Denver in the Braves farm system. Those were the days of minor leagues with picturesque names, and Chuck passed through the Three-Eye and the Kitty League on the way to his eventual World Series success in Pittsburgh in 1979.
So, let’s begin with 1951, when Tanner arrived from Denver as an outfielder for the Atlanta Crackers. It would be his seventh season in the minor leagues—and it would be another four years before he escaped the pleasant confines of Ponce de Leon Park. And they were good years, but the parent Braves were paying more attention to escaping their own depressing tenure in Boston. In fact, I’d suggest that Tanner was living a more enjoyable life in Atlanta.
His batting averages those four years were .318, .345, .3l8 and .323, but something got the Braves’ attention that final season. It was power. He broke out in a rash of home runs—20. And home runs attract attention. And it continued after he made the Braves roster in 1955, their second season in Milwaukee. The first pitch he saw in the major leagues he turned into a home run. However, it would not set a trend. Chuck was not a power hitter. He would hit just 21 home runs in his major league career, and by 1963 he was already into managing, first stop Quad-Cities. (That would be Davenport, Iowa, to you and me.) The Three-Eye League—again.
That was just the beginning. Chuck always had personality, an easy smile and a good chuckle, and you know the story of the World Series of ’79, when it came down to his last pitching hope. The Pirates not only stayed alive, they put the Orioles away in seven games. Then came the return to Atlanta, this time as manager of the Braves, which didn’t work out. He and Bobby Cox, doing an encore as general manager, weren’t a good mix, as gentile as they were. And I wasn’t much help. One night in Asheville, N.C., I’d seen a third baseman who knocked my eyes out. He had a game to arouse any major league scout, home runs, RBI, Kenny Boyer with the glove. I couldn’t wait to call Bobby Cox and let him in on my “find.” He traded for him—not without having a scout check him out, though, and if he’d really been smart he’d have recommended the kid named Craig Biggio—but Ed Whited had had his big moment. He hit one major league home run and strangely wasted away, and I hung up my “license” as a scout.
And Chuck Tanner was soon gone as well.