Chuck Tanner, the former White Sox and A's manager who is in his first season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, is a bundle of baseball clich�s. Games in May, he insists, are as important as those in September. Certainly St. Louis is tough, but so are San Diego and Atlanta. Everyone can beat you. But, rest assured, the other guys put their pants on one leg at a time. So play 'em one at a time, let it all hang out, never look back and have fun.
Tanner, who has been a professional since he played the outfield for Evansville (Ind.) in 1946, has never had more fun than he is having now. The Pirates—no, his Pirates—may be playing 'em one at a time, but they are winning 'em in bunches. They are galloping along at a pace second only to that of the Los Angeles Dodgers, winning roughly two out of every three games and leading the Eastern Division of the National League by—well, there's the rub. Eleven teams in the majors are playing better than .500 ball, and four of them are in the National League East. Thus, instead of disappearing over the horizon the way the Dodgers have, the Pirates are only narrowly ahead of Chicago, St. Louis and Philadelphia.
That the Pirates are leading their division is not a new story. After all, they have been Eastern champs five of the last seven seasons. It is how they are doing it that is surprising and the reason why it is appropriate to call them Tanner's team. He has given Pittsburgh fresh verve and a new look that has nothing to do with the variety of jazzy uniforms the players are wearing these days. The Pirates top the league in stolen bases (75), with Shortstop Frank (The Pittsburgh Stealer) Taveras, who has 18, and Centerfielder Omar Moreno (16) among the leaders. But they are hardly the whole story of Pirate thievery.
?In the 10th inning against the Dodgers last Thursday night, Ed Kirkpatrick, a lumbering gent on the base paths, stole second and later scored the winning run. Granted Dodger Reliever Charlie Hough was throwing knuckleballs, which take a while to reach the plate, but sending Kirkpatrick was an aggressive move on Tanner's part.
?Taveras stole third recently against the Reds with two outs and Johnny Bench catching. Why steal third with two outs? Tanner figured Bench's arm is so strong that Pete Rose might have trouble getting to the bag in time to catch Bench's peg. Rose indeed got there late, the throw went sailing into left field and Taveras scored.
? Bruce Kison, pitcher, tried to steal second against the Dodgers. He failed, but he reaffirmed that the Pirates are going to run and run, often when it is least expected.
Tanner also has definite ideas about pitchers. He has earned the sobriquet Happy Hooker because of his penchant for removing hurlers at the slightest sign of headache, nasal congestion or ball four. Take John Candelaria, the gangling 23-year-old with size 14 feet and a sweet fastball. The Candy Man has been the best lefthander in the league this season. Last week he shut out Cincy and beat L.A. to raise his record to 6-0 and reduce his ERA to 1.62, but in none of his efforts has he been on the mound at the end. In fact, the Pirate pitching staff has recorded seven shutouts but only three complete games.
The starters can blame that mainly on the Goose, otherwise known as Rich Gossage, who throws so hard in relief that Catcher Duffy Dyer's left palm is aching. Gossage, who worked for Tanner in Chicago and was the American League Fireman of the Year in 1975 with 26 saves, came to the Pirates in one of the numerous trades the manager effected after he himself came to the Pirates in one of baseball's most bizarre and widely criticized deals. The Bucs sent starting Catcher Manny Sanguillen and $100,000 to Oakland to obtain Tanner's services. No sooner did he arrive in Pittsburgh than Tanner started a spate of trades that sacrificed hitting, long a Pirate trademark, for speed, pitching and dependable defense. Last week Gossage, a tall, slightly plump 25-year-old, gave the Dodgers as much pain as he did his catcher, striking out eight batters, including Steve Garvey twice, in three innings. That performance lowered his ERA to a remarkable 0.84 and ran his record to 4-0. Those victories, along with his eight saves, meant that Gossage had been a valuable contributor in 12 of the Pirates' 25 wins.
Kent Tekulve, who looks like the skinny kid who is always getting sand kicked in his face, was cut from his high school team but he has persevered to become an effective alternate to the Goose. His record is 3-0, with three saves. In fact, virtually all the Pirate pitchers are big winners, with the notable exception of Jerry Reuss. A big—most Pittsburgh pitchers are considerably taller than six feet—yellow-haired man, Reuss has not only failed to win, but at one point last week he had accounted for half of the Pirates' 10 losses.
Wandering disconsolately around the clubhouse after taking an 8-3 pasting, Reuss was anxious to tell his story to anyone who would listen. "Everything that could possibly go wrong this season has," he said. 'There have been ground balls just past fielders, loopers and some plain lousy pitching by me. I always said I wanted to experience everything in baseball, but I'd just as soon have skipped this part of it. It's gotten so that I question everything I do, including how I put on my uniform."