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Upbeat manager guided Pirates to '79 Series title

PITTSBURGH — For Chuck Tanner, it was all about family.

There was the 1979 World Series when the Pirates — energized by the thumping anthem We Are Family — soared to a title.

And there was Game 5 of that Series, when the comeback started for a Pirates team facing elimination by the Orioles. Mr. Tanner learned his mother had died that morning, but he insisted on managing because he knew she would have wanted him to.

Mr. Tanner, 82, one of baseball's upbeat figures, died Friday in his hometown of New Castle, Pa., after a long illness.

"In baseball, we will remember his eternal optimism and his passion for the game," said his son, former major-league pitcher Bruce Tanner.

He'll be noted in the record book, too, for a smashing debut: Playing for the Milwaukee Braves in 1955, he homered on the first pitch he saw as a major-leaguer.

Renowned for his never-wavering confidence and an inherent belief that no deficit was too large to overcome, Mr. Tanner managed the White Sox, A's, Pirates and Braves to a record of 1,352-1,381 from 1970 to 1988. He won one division title and finished second five times.

"It's hard to win a pennant," Mr. Tanner once said, "but it's harder to lose one."

Mr. Tanner's irrepressible faith was tested on that morning of Game 5 in 1979, with the Pirates trailing the Orioles 3-1. Mr. Tanner awoke and found out his mother had died in a nursing home in New Castle, about 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.

A grieving Mr. Tanner stuck with his team, saying: "She knows we're in trouble, so she went upstairs to get some help."

Mr. Tanner started left-hander Jim Rooker, who had won four games all season, rather than future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven. Rooker held the Orioles to one run over five innings, and the Pirates, led by aging star Willie Stargell, went on to sweep the final three games.

"Chuck was a class act who always carried himself with grace, humility and integrity," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said.

Upbeat manager guided Pirates to '79 Series title 02/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 11, 2011 9:43pm]
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