Wednesday, August 10, 2011

#221 - Chuck Tanner/White Sox Field Leaders

Chuck Tanner looks moderately happy in this photo so I am guessing it is taken early in the season, possibly spring training. If I am correct on that last bit then it was a warm spring since that guy right over Chuck's left shoulder has no shirt on. That's too bad for us since that guy is nastily doughy. Maybe Chuck is just happy that he is in much better shape; he HAD to be.

Much like their cross-town friends the Cubbies, the White Sox in '73 were looking to build on the momentum of a promising '72. Dick Allen was fresh off his MVP year, Tanner had been AL Manager of the Year, and Bill Melton was healthy, plus they had some exciting young pitchers. They came out of the gate like gangbusters, led by Wilbur Wood who was pitching - and pretty much winning - every third day and on top of their big three - Allen, Melton, and Carlos May - doing well, Pat Kelly was smacking the crap out of the ball. In early June they were still above .600. But then Allen got steamrolled by Mike Epstein and was done for the year; the pitching would turn out to be only so-so after Wilbur and Cy Acosta; and everything pretty much collapsed as the Sox stuck around .500 from late June to early September when a late swoon took them all the way down to fifth place.

Chuck Tanner is one of those guys who was born old. In this photo he was only 44. He grew up in New Castle PA, not terribly far from Allen's hometown of Wampum, which would prove hugely helpful for the relationship between the two men. Chuck was signed by the Boston Braves in '46 out of high school. After a slow start that year he would move up the ladder from D ball to Double A over the next eight seasons hitting well over .300 at each stop except for a few games in Triple A. He established a reputation as a good-fielding speedy outfielder and would post a .313 average for his minor league career. In '55 he made it to the top as Milwaukee's fourth outfielder. He would then barely play in '56 and was grabbed by the Cubs early in '57 off waivers. For Chicago he would hit .286 as his only time as a starter. In '58 he was back to reserve duty. In '59 he moved to Cleveland for whom he would have a very good Triple A year but play rarely up top. In '61 he was sold to the new Angels for whom he would again play mostly in the minors. By '62 he was done in the majors, finishing with a .261 average with a .323 OBA and 21 homers.

Beginning in '63 Tanner would manage in the Angels chain, moving up through successive leagues until '70 when he won 98 with Triple A Hawaii. He was then picked to be the White Sox manager very late in that season. He had a laid back approach and a reputation for handling pitchers well, allowing him to move the team from last to second place in just over two years. He helped turn Terry Forster and Goose Gossage into effective relievers and was the most successful manager of Allen and his moods until late in '74 when Dick "retired", again killing a revived team. Chuck stayed in Chicago through the following season and then moved to Oakland in '76, right after the team sent Reggie and Ken Holtzman to Baltimore. Despite those losses, Chuck nearly managed to win the division as he turned the team into a basepaths-eating machine as the club stole a record 341 bases. Following that season he was mercifully traded to the Pirates for Manny Sanguillen. In Pittsburgh he would do his magic again, giving the vets room and working the pitching staff well, averaging 92 wins his first two seasons. He then won the whole thing in '79 with the "We Are Family" Pirates. Then Pittsburgh got old fast and disappointed the next year. Chuck would stick there through a couple good years into a disastrous '85. In '86 he went to Atlanta where things didn't go so well and he was released in '88. He then did admin work for the Brewers, Indians, and back with the Pirates. His lifetime MLB managerial record was 1,352-1,381 and in the minors 561-537. He passed away earlier this year in PA at age 81.
Joe Lonnett was another rural PA kid who was signed by the Phillies in '47. In a recent interview with him he mentioned that he played American Leqion ball after high school and also did military time which explains his being 20 when signed. By '50 he moved up to A ball and showed decent power and good defense behind the plate. He would lose the next two years to military duty - odd if he really also did it as a teenager - returning in '53 to put in three years at Triple A, the best in '54 when he tapped 21 homers with 63 RBIs in only 350 at bats. After a short year there in '55 he came up to Philadelphia in '56 and spent the next four years there as a backup. He never really got things going up top hitting only .166. By '58 he was spending most of his time back in the minors where he continued to play until '62, finishing with a career .261 average at that level. He then both scouted and coached in the Phillies organization from '63 to '70, somewhere along the line meeting Mr. Tanner. In '71 he became the third base coach of the Sox which he did through '75. He then joined Tanner in Pittsburgh, assuming the same role from '77 to '84. He would then manage a bit in the minors for the Blue Jays, going 41-36, before essentially retiring in '89. He is currently residing back in PA.

Jim Mahoney was signed out of Jersey by the Phillies in '53 as a pitcher. Midway through his first season in D ball as a reliever he was sent to Boston and finished a combined 0-5. But he hit well over .300 so he was turned into a shortstop. He then hit nearly .300 with 23 homers in '54 and by '56 was up to Triple A where he hit .228. Jim then missed the next two seasons for military duty returning in '59 to his former level plus some games up top in which he almost exclusively pinch ran and played late-inning defense. He would then move around a bunch: Washington, Pittsburgh, the Angels, Cleveland, the Braves, and to Houston where he played his last ball up top in '65 and put in multiple seasons for their Triple A clubs. He was a .229 hitter in 225 career at bats in the majors. He continued playing in the minors and by '69 landed in the White Sox system where in '70 he was a player-coach. In the minors he hit about .245. He then moved up to Chicago from '71 to '76, followed by managing stints for the Pirates and White Sox organizations from '77 to '83, during which time he went 412-408. He coached for the Mariners from '85 to '86 and then did some work in the Twins system for an indeterminate amount of time. He is also still around.

Alex Monchak was another middle infielder from Jersey who by '37 was in the low minors of the Dodgers system. The next couple years he would move around and while he would post .300-plus averages at the lower levels really couldn't get it going at Single A or higher. In '43 WWII called and Alex would spend the next three years in the military. He returned in '46 for a year of A ball in the Milwaukee system and was then released. He then played a bunch of independent ball from '48 to '53 before putting in a few years in the Cleveland and Milwaukee systems. When he was done in '57 he left behind a .274 average in the minors. In his brief stop up top with Philly he hit .143 in 14 at bats. From '49 to '61 he managed in the minors, first for independent leagues, then for the Braves. During that time he won four league championships while going 787-669. From '62 to '70 he would scout and do admin work for the Angels, where he met Chuck Tanner. He then joined Chuck for a few tours: the Sox ('71-'75); Oakland ('76); Pittsburgh ('77-'84); and Atlanta ('86-'88). He then retired and is still hanging out at 94.

Johnny Sain was one of the best pitching coaches ever. Signed by Detroit out of a tiny town in Arkansas in '36, he spent the next four seasons in D ball after which, although he won 34 games from '38 to '39, he was released. He then signed a minor league contract with a Dodgers affiliate where he threw for two seasons before being purchased by the Braves prior to the '42 season. His debut in the majors wasn't fantastic - 4-7 as a reliever with six saves - but he and manager Casey Stengel hit it off. Johnny would miss the next three seasons as a Navy pilot during WWII and then return to Boston where he would be one of the NL's best pitchers the next three seasons, winning a combined 65 games and leading the Braves to the '48 Series. Early in '49 his arm got hurt and although he won 20 in '50 his combined record of 35-43 with a high ERA got him traded to the Yankees midway through the '51 season to be reunited with Casey. He was an immediate success - he fixed his arm through radiation therapy - going a combined 27-14 as a spot starter and reliever for the next three Series winners. In '54 he led the AL in saves with 22. He then faded fast, finishing his career in '55 with the A's. Johnny went a combined 139-116 with a 3.49 ERA,140 complete games, 16 shutouts, and 53 saves. He made three All-Star teams and finished second in MVP voting in '48. He was an excellent hitter as well, batting .245 and only striking out 20 times during his career. In KC he became a pitching coach, sticking with the A's through '59. In '60 he joined the Yankees where he turned Whitey Ford, Ralph Terry, and Jim Bouton into 20-game winners. He asked for and was released after the Yankees wouldn't give him a raise after the '63 season. Johnny was rather famous - or infamous if one was in management - for being his own guy: he didn't believe in pitchers running; didn't believe in catchers calling games; would teach his pitchers unpopular pitches; and was very big in preparing his pitchers mentally and emotionally. He went to the Twins in '65 where he helped them win a pennant and turned Mudcat Grant and Jim Kaat into 20-game winners, but only lasted through '66. In '67 he went to Detroit where he turned his magic to Mickey Lolich, Denny McLain, and Earl Wilson, helping the team win the '68 Series. He got canned in '69 and then worked in the Angels system. He came to the White Sox in '71 and turned that team around, moving Wilbur Wood to the rotation, reviving Jim Kaat, and getting 20 wins out of Stan Bahnsen. He stuck in Chicago through '75 and then went to the Braves organization where he put in a few seasons up top ('77 and '85-'86) but more importantly developed guys like Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine. Johnny retired after the '89 season and passed away in 2006 at age 89.

Since Chuck played up top we get a double hook-up. First as manager:

1. Tanner managed Tommy John on the '70 to '71 White Sox;
2. John and Don Sutton '72 to '78 Dodgers.

Then as player:

1.Tanner and Ernie Banks '57 to '58 Cubs;
2. Banks and Paul Popovich '64 to '67 and '69 to '71 Cubs;
3. Popovich and Don Sutton '68 to '69 Dodgers.

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