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Ron Fimrite
July 11, 1977
Although he is a teammate of the fabled Nolan Ryan, the Angels' Frank Tanana takes a backseat to no one when it comes to throwing hard or living easy
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July 11, 1977

This Guy Tanana's No Second Banana

Although he is a teammate of the fabled Nolan Ryan, the Angels' Frank Tanana takes a backseat to no one when it comes to throwing hard or living easy

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Although he insists he no longer cruises, Tanana, unlike Ryan, prefers to preserve a little of himself for critical situations. Because of this, he doubts he will ever pitch a no-hitter. "I might give them something to hit in the early going, not make too many outstanding pitches," he says. "But with men on base, they'll see a different pitcher. They'll see another speed of fastball and a curve with more bite to it. It's all there when I need it."

On the day of his ninth win, Tanana watched the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Philadelphia 76ers for the NBA championship on the television set in his sunken living room. He is usually somewhat subdued on pitching days, but, as an old player, basketball still rouses him. "Look at Dr. J," he cried out at one juncture. "If his mouth were big enough to get around the ball, the man could slam-dunk with his teeth." After the game, Tanana retreated to his kitchen to prepare a pregame steak. In the adjoining den, there is a bookshelf filled not with phonograph records, as one might expect, but with books. Leon Uris is there and, surprisingly, so is Erich Fromm. "Oh, I haven't read that yet," says Tanana, denying intellectual pretensions. "But I do read a lot. Nothing heavy, though. The Joy of Sex is a particular favorite."

Tanana puttered about the modern kitchen, protesting all the while that he is not a domestic animal. He does not see himself as someone's husband. "I'm having too much fun doing what I please," he said. "I just broke up with a girl I'd been going with for three years. It wasn't fair to her. Here I am on the road half the time, and you know, you don't have to look for women when you're a ballplayer. They look for you. Maybe I'll get all this out of my system in a while. Maybe not. Maybe this is just me. If so, O.K. Damn, that steak looks overdone. I'm so domestic, it's sickening."

He settled before his mid-afternoon repast. "I'll go to the park in a while. Do some stretching exercises, have Jimmy Reese [the 71-year-old Angel coach] hit some balls to me. Jimmy is a great old guy. People are always asking him about when he played with the Babe, but he never talks about himself, which is nice. Gives me more room to talk about myself. Steak's not too bad after all...."

He looked thoughtful. "You know, if my career came to an end tomorrow, I'd be in real trouble. Oh, not financially. I'm being paid an enormous sum to do what I love doing. My contract goes through 1981, and I'll be lucky to be alive that long, let alone throwing baseballs. No, money is no problem. Finding something to do would be. If I'm gonna do anything, I want it to be something I can have fun at. Otherwise, forget it. I think I could adapt to broadcasting. I did a couple of games at the end of last season. I pitched a Friday night game and I was done for the year, so I asked Drysdale if I could come up to the booth the next day. Naturally, that night I partied. So the next day I get a call at 12:45 from Drysdale, who's wondering where I am. Well, where I am is still in the rack. But I get up and make my way out to the park. I'm unshaven, all baggy-eyed, looking pretty bad, pretty much the way I usually do. So Don hands me the earphones, and I'm on. Funny thing is, I did all right. I was much better the next time, though."

He rose from the table and walked to the large window in the front room that looks out on a courtyard populated exclusively, it seemed, with young women in bathing suits. "I guess I better get out to the park a little early," he said. "Might take me a half hour. On a good day, I can make it there in 20 minutes in the Mercedes, but if I get ticketed any more, it'll be cheaper to hire a car and a chauffeur. As it is, the insurance is a killer. They're just waiting for guys like me—young, single, driving a Benz. Yeah, I'd better get going. Sure like to go out to the pool, though. Catch a half hour on each side. But hell, you gotta make some sacrifices in this business."

He shrugged, turned away from the window and the temptations it offered up to him and headed for his sleek car and yet another victory. It was, you might say, an act of real maturability.

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