Tanner debuted with the Milwaukee Braves on April 12, 1955, and became the third pinch hitter ever to homer on the first major league pitch he saw, tagging the Reds’ Gerry Staley. But his only solid season as a player was 1957, with the Braves and Cubs, when he batted .279 with 48 RBI. In 1958, his 53 pinch-hitting appearances led the NL.
At the end of his eighth season as a minor league manager, Tanner took over the helm of the White Sox. He became known for his enthusiasm and eternal optimism. He brought Chicago in second in 1972 to win TSN ML Manager of the Year honors, but was fired after a fifth-place finish in 1975. He spent a year piloting Oakland before Charley Finley traded him to Pittsburgh for Manny Sanguillen and $100,000. Tanner’s 1979 Pirates won the NL pennant and defeated Baltimore in the World Series after falling behind three games to one.
Fired by Pittsburgh after finishing in the cellar in 1984-85, Tanner was hired by the Braves Ted Turner, whom Tanner had defeated when Turner managed Atlanta for one game, on May 11, 1977. But Tanner’s positive outlook could not prevent his third straight last-place finish in 1986, nor his dismissal after the Braves had gone 12-27 in 1988. He had come into 1988 with 17 consecutive full seasons as a manager – tops among active ML skippers. His son Bruce pitched ten games for the 1985 White Sox and was later traded to Oakland. Another son, Mark, pitched in the Cub, White Sox, and Rangers organizations.