Chuck Tanner, a native of New Castle, Pennsylvania, had two different baseball careers in Atlanta in two distinct eras. From 1951 to 1954 he was one of the best players on the Atlanta Crackers of the Southern Association. In the late 1980s Tanner managed some of the worst teams in the history of the Atlanta Braves.
In his four seasons with the Crackers, Tanner batted more than .300 every year and excelled in the outfield. Tanner’s best campaign was 1954, when he played every inning of every game. His .323 batting average led the team, and he hit a career high of twenty home runs. He and teammates Bob Montag and Pete Whisenant formed one of the finest outfields in Cracker history. Under manager Whitlow Wyatt, Tanner helped to lead the Crackers to the Class AA Grand Slam, winning the midseason All-Star game, pennant, postseason league play-off, and Dixie Series over the Texas League champions. Tanner’s excellent play earned him a promotion to the major leagues for the 1955 season.
Tanner dramatically began his major league career in 1955 with the Milwaukee Braves. On the first pitch at bat, he pinch-hit a game-winning home run, becoming the third player in history to accomplish that feat. Injuries marred Tanner’s career, however, and in eight years he hit only twenty more home runs.
Tanner retired as a player after the 1962 season and began a career as a successful manager. For his leadership of the 1972 Chicago White Sox, Tanner won the American League Manager of the Year Award. In 1979 he managed the Pittsburgh Pirates to a world championship. Tanner was highly influenced by Whitlow Wyatt, his 1954 Atlanta Cracker manager.
Tanner returned to Atlanta to manage the Braves for the 1986 season. Sportswriter Furman Bisher asked in his regular column if the former Cracker could bring back the 1954 Atlanta championship form with him, and Tanner promised that he would. Privately, however, Tanner confided to his friends that he could not win a title with the team’s weak pitching staff. In a little more than two years with Atlanta, Tanner compiled a dismal record of 153 wins and 208 losses. The Braves fired him in May 1988.
In a forty-year career in professional baseball, Tanner was known for his infectious smile, good-natured personality, and never-ending optimism. He spent the rest of his life in his hometown in Pennsylvania, where he owned a restaurant and raised thoroughbred horses. He died on February 11, 2011, at the age of eighty-two, after a long illness.