I have been a fan of the Detroit Tigers since the Summer of 1984. That means I am lucky enough to vividly remember my baseball team winning a World Series title, and waiting for them to win another. Since every year the team itself asks me who my Tiger is I decided to write about my favorite 25 Tigers since I became a fan…at eight years old…This has less to do with performance as it does with whatever intangible qualities Tigers’ players have…I mean this is the town that loved Brandon Inge and Don Kelly…and no neither one of those players will make my list…With all of that being said…
#17 Starting Pitcher Frank Tanana
I was a full time sports writer for 10 years. By and large it was a great gig, way better than having one of them real jobs. The one draw back to being a sports writer is that I always have to write about sports without being part of the story. I had to write as a observer…stuck behind the fourth wall. As a sports fan I do not have that limitation. Even though Frank Tanana was a big part of my Detroit Tigers fandom when I was a kid, the reason he makes this list is for something that happened much later. I get to be part of this story.
Growing up where in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan and being involved with youth sports we always heard about the legendary things Tanana did as a kid playing on the same fields we were to be playing on. Frank grew up around here, and being sports idiots we immortalized the things he had done, even though in our adulthood we now realize that many of those feats were likely embellished. Frank returned to the Detroit suburbs once his playing days were over and that is where out paths crossed.
I was working for a guy who owned a few chain restaurants. In hopes of getting a promotion I gave up one of my days off to cover a shift in another one of his franchises and I began chit chatting with one of the old timer customers there. We would go on and on about the current state of the Tigers and baseball as a whole and after the third or fourth time that happened by boss was like, ‘you do know who that is right?’ I had no damn idea who it was just an old timer who knew a lot about baseball and was fun to talk too…when he told me it was Frank Tanana I was floored. One because I didn’t recognize him and two because this guy was so cool to me…just another sports fan talking crap like anybody else. It was cool and among all the other cool things I got to do while working there (mostly smoking cigars with Darren McCarty in the cigar store next door) it ranks among my favorite.
It is hard to believe that there was a time when the Detroit Tigers did not really play in the free agent market. The 1980’s teams were built around a young group of talent drafted by the team and when other pieces were needed the team would trade for them. That is how Frank came to town at the trade deadline during the 1985 season. Frank was a workhorse of sorts and part of the starting rotation that also included Jack Morris, Dan Petry, and Walt Terrell.
My Uncles told me that at one point in his career Tanana had been a fireballer and that seems to be true as he led the AL in strike outs and in ERA in two different seasons in the 1970’s. He was also selected to three straight all star games…by the time he came to the Tigers he seemed like more of a junk ball pitcher but he was effective. He was the Kenny Rogers of his day but on a staff that really didn’t need a veteran presence.
He pitched in Detroit until 1992 and his greatest accomplishment has to be the complete game shutout of the Toronto Blue Jays in the final game of the 1987 regular season that captured the AL East crown for the team. However, he like most of the ’87 pitching staff failed to perform in the 1987 post season.