- Associated Press - Friday, February 11, 2011

PITTSBURGH (AP) - For Chuck Tanner, it was all about family, in so many ways.

There was was the 1979 World Series when the Pittsburgh Pirates _ energized by the thumping anthem “We Are Family” _ soared to a title that ended with the players’ wives dancing on the dugout roof.

And there was Game 5 of that Series, when the great comeback started for a Pirates team facing elimination by Baltimore. Tanner learned his mother had died that morning, but he insisted on managing because he knew she would have wanted him to do the job.

On Friday, Tanner, one of baseball’s relentlessly upbeat figures, died at 82 in his hometown of New Castle, Pa. He died of a long illness at his home after spending time in hospice care.

“In baseball, we will remember his eternal optimism and his passion for the game,” Tanner’s son, former major league pitcher Bruce, said in a statement.

He’ll be noted in the record book, too, for a most smashing debut in the majors: Playing for the Milwaukee Braves in 1955, he homered on the first pitch he saw as a big leaguer.

Renowned for his never-wavering confidence and an inherent belief that no deficit was too large to overcome, Tanner managed the White Sox, Athletics, Pirates and Braves to a record of 1,352-1,381 from 1970-88. He won one division title and finished second five times.

“It’s hard to win a pennant,” Tanner once said, “but it’s harder to lose one.”

Tanner’s irrepressible faith was tested on that morning of Game 5 in 1979, with the Pirates trailing the Orioles 3-1. Tanner awoke and found out his mother had died in a nursing home in New Castle.

A grieving Tanner stuck with his team. He took a huge gamble by starting left-hander Jim Rooker, who had won four games all season, rather than future Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven. Rooker held the Orioles to one run over five innings, and the Pirates, led by aging star Willie Stargell, went on to sweep the final three games.

Chuck was a class act who always carried himself with grace, humility and integrity,” Pirates President Frank Coonelly said in a statement. “While no one had a sharper baseball mind, Chuck was loved by his players and the city of Pittsburgh because he was always positive, enthusiastic and optimistic about his Bucs and life in generally.”

After retiring from managing, Tanner remained involved with the Pirates, most recently serving as a senior adviser to general manager Neal Huntington.

Commissioner Bud Selig called Tanner a “lifetime contributor to baseball.”

Chuck spent his life serving baseball in a variety of roles,” Selig said in a statement. “And I am particularly glad that in recent years he returned to the Pirates, the club with which he will be forever linked.”

Huntington recalled his early memories of the Pirates and Tanner, and the “genuine affection” that seemed to run through the club.

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