Chuck Tanner’s legacy alive and well for Pittsburgh Pirates

Clint Hurdle strolled to the podium with a smile befitting the task he was about to perform.

He was there to introduce a colleague, one of only 29 men in the world that have the same job.

He was there to introduce a friend.

“We tell our players that the best attribute a man can have is his dependability,” Hurdle said. “Jeff Banister is a dependable man.”

Banister was awarded the Chuck Tanner MLB Manager of the year award at the Chuck Tanner Awards Banquet this past Saturday. He, along with Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage (Chuck Tanner Memorial Award), former Pirates CEO Kevin McClatchy (Chuck Tanner lifetime achievement award) and others gathered at the renowned River’s Club in downtown Pittsburgh to receive the awards whose namesake still invokes a considerable helping of love and pride.

Chuck Tanner managed the 1979 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates, among other teams in his 18-year managerial career. Tanner was known to have a deep affection for his players, affection that was returned in kind by those same players and is still felt today, nearly five years after his passing.  The “We are Family” Pirates arrived at using that song for a rallying cry not by coincidence, but by reflecting the feeling of their clubhouse.

With a team comprised of many unique characters, it was Tanner that masterfully united them.

The proceedings at his memorial awards banquet would no doubt have left Tanner feeling very satisfied with the current culture of the organization. In Hurdle’s introduction, feelings of pride and family wafted through the air as Hurdle spoke of Banister.

“He represents much more to the Texas Rangers than just a manager,” Hurdle would say. “We are so happy for the joy, for the success, for the first-guessing that he got to do all last season for the first time after second-guessing me for four years in that dugout.”

In case you were wondering: yes, Hurdle followed up that playful barb with a bellowing guffaw that could only signify the satisfaction of landing a good zinger against a good friend.

“I want to thank Bob Nutting. Bob got the job done.” – Kevin McClatchy

To his credit, the lessons that Tanner passed down for current-day MLB managers were not lost on Banister. “This is not an award I accept by myself,” Banister said as he began his remarks. “When you learn about Chuck Tanner and you listen to his players, they will all come back to the same thing..you heard it tonight…about the smile and how much they loved him.  He changed their lives to be better. He knew no stranger. He never forgot a name.”

As with any family, often there are hard feelings or resentment that need to be worked out. Even with his name irrevocably linked with the 20-year losing streak endured by Pirates fans, Kevin McClatchy was received with a warm welcome befitting one of the principals in getting PNC Park built and keeping the Pirates in Pittsburgh. The feeling in the room was miles away from any lingering resentment towards the team’s on-field performance during his tenure.

It was striking stuff, and it further drove home the feeling of family that was cultivated first by Tanner. McClatchy at times seemed alternatively touched and surprised to receive his award, showing a great deal of humility towards his stint as principal owner.

Towards the end of his comments – which focused on thanking the many individuals and organizations responsible for PNC Park – McClatchy turned his attention to current Pirates principal owner and chairman of its board Bob Nutting, also in attendance.

“I want to thank Bob Nutting.  Bob got the job done.”

The feeling of family wasn’t limited to the banquet room. Roaming the interior of the club, one could find Kent Tekulve, Dick Groat, and Hurdle all conspiring in conversation. Nutting could be seen chatting cordially with former Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield. Jim Leyland himself would be seen checking out the silent auction items.

 

Perhaps it was Searage who did the best job at putting the night into summation. Towards the end of his acceptance speech – the longest of the night, punctuated by genuine moments of emotion overtaking him – he encapsulated things much better than the 760 words previous to this could ever do.

“This organization has a direction. This organization cares about people. I look around this room and I see so many people that care about Pirates baseball.”

Searage departed the podium accompanied by his second standing ovation.

Everyone else departed the River’s Club reinvigorated by their baseball family.

Just like Chuck would have wanted.

The Chuck Tanner awards are held every year to benefit the Pittsburgh Rotary Club.  The club is responsible for many worthwhile initiatives in the greater Pittsburgh region.  Please take a moment to visit their site at pittsburghrotary.org to learn more.