A Blast From My Past
Rev Halofan of Halo's Heaven has been counting down The 100 Greatest Angels of all time during the offseason. I turned in a ballot, ranked the top 25, and contributed a short write-up on Bert Blyleven (who placed 79th) in December.
I also volunteered to cover Frank Tanana, the 14th-best Angel according to this informal survey among a select group of bloggers, writers, and fans. With Mat's permission, I am republishing my article on Tanana, who was one of my favorite Angels ever. Frank made his debut the year I graduated from high school, and I followed him closely during my college years and into my young adulthood.
I don't know where the time has gone, but it's hard to believe that more than 30 years have passed since I took the photo which accompanies my article below. How many of today's pitchers get as much power from their legs as Tanana did? You've also gotta love the dirt on the upper left thigh. Oh, and it was a lot easier to get good seats back then!
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Frank Daryl Tanana pitched for six teams--California Angels (1973-1980), Boston Red Sox (1981), Texas Rangers (1982-1985), Detroit Tigers (1985-1992), New York Mets (1993), and New York Yankees (1993)--over the course of his 21-year major league career.
Since 1900, Tanana ranks 14th in games started (616), 22nd in innings pitched (4188.1), 18th in strikeouts (2733), and 37th in wins (240). Among left-handers, Tanana places 5th in GS, 7th in IP, 4th in K, and 11th in W. He has started more games than any other southpaw in the history of the American League.
Tanana enjoyed his best years when he pitched for the Angels. Drafted in the first round (13th pick) of the 1971 amateur draft, Tanana blew through the minor leagues in less than two years, compiling a 24-8 record with a 2.71 ERA. In 1973, at El Paso ("AA"), he led the Texas League in CG (15), IP (206), and K (197), pitched two games for Salt Lake City ("AAA"), and made his major league debut on September 9 at Kansas City. Tanana started four games that month, going 2-2 with a 3.08 ERA. All told, the lefty pitched 246 innings in a year in which he turned 20 halfway through the season.
Replacing Clyde Wright, who was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers after the previous season, in the rotation in 1974, Tanana started 35 games and was named The Sporting News AL Rookie Pitcher of the Year when he went 14-19 with a 3.12 ERA. He won his last two decisions to keep from losing 20 games for the last place Halos (68-94).
Frank Tanana "Daquiri," as he was known by ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman, notched the first of three straight 200-strikeout seasons in 1975, while leading the league in K (269), K/9 (9.41), and K/BB (3.68). It was the only year from 1972-1979 in which teammate Nolan Ryan did not lead the AL in whiffs. The co-number-1 starter in the Tanana and Ryan and two days of cryin' rotation fashioned a remarkable 16-9 (.640) record for a team that once again finished dead last (72-89, .447). He was recognized for his outstanding accomplishments by finishing fourth in the AL Cy Young balloting that year.
On June 21, 1975, in the first game of a twi-nite doubleheader against the Rangers in Anaheim, Tanana struck out a career-high 17 batters without recording a single K in the 9th in a 4-2 victory. He whiffed 15 Minnesota Twins nine days later. Tanana also punched out 14 batters in a game and had two 13s and a 12 that same year.
The young, brash strikeout artist returned more confident than ever in 1976 and earned the first of three consecutive All-Star appearances. Tanana had career bests of 19 wins and a 2.43 ERA. He led the league in WHIP (0.99) and K/BB (3.58) and placed 3rd for the CYA and 15th for MVP.
Firmly entrenched as the best left-hander in the league, Tanana led the AL in ERA (2.54), ERA+ (154), and shutouts (7) in 1977. He was 10-2 on June 10th and on pace to win 30 games. Two starts later, Tanana recorded his sixth shutout of the young season to win his 11th game to along with his 1.81 ERA. From April 29th through July 3rd (his 24th birthday), the 6-foot-3, 195-pounder completed 14 straight games, an all-time Angels record.
Working every fourth day, the complete-game streak finally took its toll. Tanana pitched just 10 innings over his next three starts, yielding 17 hits and 11 runs. Pitching with an inflamed triceps tendon in his left arm, Tanana started only nine more games that year, making his last appearance on September 5th.
Manager Norm Sherry had overworked his young star and the more than 1300 innings compiled from 1973-1977 reduced the hard-throwing southpaw to a pitcher who relied on a looping curveball and finesse the rest of his career. Nonetheless, Frank remained one of the most effective hurlers in the game through the All-Star break in 1978 when he was 12-5 with a 3.09 ERA. Despite tiring down the stretch once again (6-7, 4.41 in the second half), Tanana still managed to win 18 games. However, his strikeout rate plunged from a career average 7.79 per 9 IP to 5.16/9 IP in 1978.
Tanana was never the same pitcher. He spent almost three months on the disabled list the following season but returned in time to throw a complete-game in a 4-1 victory over the Royals to clinch the first-ever American League West title for the Angels. The image of Tanana completing the 3-1 (first base to pitcher) play for the final out and jumping into the air with his hands held high remains one of the greatest memories for any Angels fan.
The 26-year-old veteran of six-plus seasons started one game in the AL Championship series against the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched five rather undistinguished innings, allowing six hits, two walks, and two runs while striking out three batters in a no decision. It was the first of two postseason outings for Tanana and the only one with the Angels.
After pitching his final season as a Halo in 1980, Tanana was traded to the Boston Red Sox along with Joe Rudi for Fred Lynn and Steve Renko the following January. At the time of the trade, Tanana was second to Ryan among the team's all-time leaders in starts, complete games, innings, shutouts, strikeouts, and wins. Twenty-five years later, the man who wore #40 on the back of his jersey ranks in the top four in every important pitching statistic: GS 4th (218), CG 2nd (92), IP 4th (1615.1), SHO 2nd (24), K 4th (1233), W 4th (102), and ERA 4th (3.08).
Although Tanana was at his best with the Angels, he went on to pitch 13 more years in the big leagues, including 7 1/2 seasons with his hometown Detroit Tigers. The highlight of Tanana's post-Angels tenure occurred in 1987 when the native son shut out the Toronto Blue Jays on the last day of the season to win the AL East title.
During his career, Tanana threw a one-hitter and five two-hitters, including four with the Angels--three of which were shutouts. As an indication of his lack of run support with the Angels, Tanana had two 13-inning outings in which he allowed no runs, yet failed to get a decision in either game. The hardluck pitcher set a major-league record for the most victories without racking up a 20-win season.
Tanana's success was a function of his great stuff in the early years and outstanding command throughout his career. "My best pitch has always been control. I lost some velocity, but at the same time, thank God, I didn't lose my control. That's 90% of pitching, keeping the hitter off balance."
Whitey Herzog, manager of the Kansas City Royals during Tanana's heyday with the Angels, is quoted in the Angels' 1978 media guide, "I haven't seen Tom Seaver in a few years, but Tanana has to be the best pitcher in baseball."
Milwaukee Brewers manager Alex Grammas concurred. "Tanana is the best pitcher, not only in the American League, but in the National League, too."
The brash Tanana didn't disagree with his admirers. "When people talk about the number one pitcher in baseball, I want Frank Tanana's name to come to mind first."
After signing a five-year, multi-million dollar contract in 1977, the always quotable Tanana emphasized, "I play the game because I love it and want to be the best at it. Sure, I make a lot of money, but that's only because they are passing it around."
A resident of Corona del Mar during his stay with the Angels, Tanana was voted Southern California's most eligible bachelor one year. He was known as a playboy until he got married in January 1978. With age and maturity, Tanana settled down and became a family man. Frank and his wife, Cathy, and their four children, Lauren, Jill, Kari and Erin, now reside in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Mr. and Mrs. Tanana serve on the Pro Athletes Outreach Board of Directors and are also involved in the Home Plate and Career Impact ministries.
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Here are Halo's Heaven top 20 Angels:
20. Wally Joyner
19. Reggie Jackson
18. Doug DeCinces
17. Mike Witt
16. Vlad Guerrero
15. Dean Chance
14. Frank Tanana
13. Mike Scioscia
12. Rod Carew
11. Don Baylor
The top ten, which have yet to be unveiled, are presented in alphabetical order:
Who would you vote for as the #1 Angel of all time?