Frank Tanana: Former Italian / American Mets Pitcher (1993)

Frank Daryl Tanana was born on July 3, 1953, in Detroit, Michigan. The left-handed fast ball pitcher was a 1971 first round draft pick for the California Angels, the 13th pick overall. 

In 1973 he was 33-12 with a 2.70 ERA at two levels of minor league ball, getting promoted to the big-league staff by the end of the year.

In 1974 Tanana teamed up with Nolan Ryan making them one of the best one & two combos in baseball. The saying went in Anaheim was “Tanana, Ryan & two days of crying’” during those mid-seventies hey days.

 In his first full season, 1974 he was given the start on the second game of the season in Chicago against the White Sox.

Although he pitched well into the 7th inning allowing just two runs, he got no decision. He then won his next two starts beating Texas & the White Sox at home. 

In May he lost four straight starts going 2-4 in the month, although his ERA was just at 2.88. From the end of June on, he allowed more than three runs in a game just five times, but was just 10-7 in that time.

Topps All Star Rookie: Tanana finished the year at 14-19 (3rd most losses in the A.L.) on a last place Angel’s team, striking out 180 batters (7th in the AL) in 268 innings pitched with a 3.12 ERA. He made the Topps All Star Rookie Team & was voted California’s most eligible bachelor. The free spirited Tanana became a star the next season.

In 1975 he started out at 2-4 then things took off after June 3rd. He won four straight decagons, striking out ten batters or more three times. On June 21st in the first game of a double header with the Texas Rangers he struck out 17 batters pitching a two hit complete game. 

In that game his fast ball was clocked at 1000 mph. Two outings later he struck out 15 Twins in Minnesota, tossing his third straight complete game win.

After a July Fourth of July loss at Oakland, he won eight of his next nine decisions, ten of his last fourteen. From August 24th through September 10th, he tossed five straight complete games, beginning with a four-hit shut out against the AL New York team in New York's Shea Stadium.

He never allowed more than six hits in those starts and was 4-1 lowering his ERA to 2.36. On September 22nd he earned no decision although he pitched 13 shut out innings, allowing just six hits against the White Sox.

Tanana led the A.L in strikeouts with 269, going 16-9 with a 2.62 ERA (fourth in the AL). On the season he threw 16 complete games with five shut outs, coming in fourth in the Cy Young Award voting.

In the bicentennial year of 1976, he had a great May winning six straight starts pitching complete games in five of those outings. He made his first All Star team, that year & ended the season with a 7-1 August/ September. On September 6th he struck out 15 Oakland A's for his tenth game with double figures in strike outs on the year. 

On the year he was 19-9 (fourth most wins in the AL) with a 2.43 ERA (3rd in the AL) & 23 complete games (2nd in the AL) pitching 288 innings. 

AL -ERA Leader: In 1977 he started out the year at 4-0 and was an incredible 11-3 by the middle of June. By now he was one of the league's top pitchers. On May 25th he threw three hits shut out in Detroit & then in his next start threw a five hit one run game in Cleveland but took the loss to Dennis Eckersley' s 1-0 shutout.

In June when the Indians came to California, he got revenge by throwing a two-hit shutout victory. In August he tossed a four-hit shutout over seven innings against the Boston Red Sox & then pitched a three-hit shutout in his next outing against the Baltimore Orioles. His season was cut short with an injury at the beginning of September.

On the year he led the league in ERA (.2.54) & shut outs, tossing seven of them. He was second to teammate Nolan Ryan in strike outs (230) as well as strike out per nine inning ratio.

 He went to that All Star Games as well as the next years, representing the Angels. Tanana would go 82-59 over a five-year period with the Angles. The team only finished above fourth place once in those years (second place in 1978).

In 1979 he missed two months due to a shoulder injury which would ruin his fastball. After the tragic murder of teammate Lyman Bostock, Tanana became a religious man & changed his perspective on life. 

He also learned to become a finesse style pitcher, without his blazing fast ball, prolonging his career for another 14 years. After his return in September, he went 2-1 helping the Angels clinch their first AL Western Title.

1979 Post Season- ALCS: In the 1979 ALCS he pitched his first game getting no decision against the Baltimore Orioles, allowing two runs over five innings of work. The Orioles took the series in four games.

In January of 1981 he was traded to the Boston Red Sox along with Joe Rudi & Steve Renko for All Star Fred Lynn. 

Red Sox & Tigers Career: He would never be the dominant pitcher he once was. He went to Boston in the strike shortened 1981 season in Boston going 4-10. Things got worse as he moved on to the Texas Rangers (1982-1985). 

In 1982 Tanana led the league in losses (18) posting an ERA over four for the third straight year. By 1984 he turned himself around to be a fifteen-game winner, going 15-15 with a 3.25 ERA. 

Tigers Career:  Mid way through 1985, he came back to his hometown of Detroit, pitching for the Tigers for the next seven plus seasons through 1992.

In Detroit legendary broad caster Ernie Harwell would call him ‘Tan-talizing Tanana” as he became known as "the great tantalizer" for his wide array of pitches. He would post winning records in all but one season & would pitch over 200 innings four times in those years.

He would win 13 or more games four times, including a 15-10 season in 1987 as the Tigers won the AL Eastern Title. That year he pitched a 1-0 shutout against the Toronto Blue Jays on the last day of the season, helping the Tigers get to the post season.

1987 Post Season- ALCS: In the ALCS he took a loss to Frank Viola & the Minnesota Twins in Game #4, allowing four runs in 5.1 innings of work. 

He went 14-11 the next season but then fell to 10-14 in 1989. He won 13 games in back-to-back seasons (1991/1992) ending his time with the Tigers.

Tanana signed on with the New York Mets as a free agent for the 1993 season.

Mets Career: His first Mets start came in the 10th game of the year, in Cincinnati against the Reds. Tanana pitched six innings allowing one run on six hits earning the 4-1 victory. 

He won his next start as well, pitching eight innings allowing only one run at Shea Stadium against the San Diego Padres. In May he lost his first three starts then beat the Reds to close out the month. During the summer months he went 3-10, winning just one game in each month.

In September he finished his Mets career with a 5-4 victory against the Phillies at Shea Stadium on September 14th. He would pitch into the 7th inning or beyond 14 times during the season, but more often than not, ended up on the losing end for a last place Mets team.

He led the staff in starts (29) but also in HRs allowed (26) earned runs (91) & hits (198). Overall he was 7-15 with a 4.48 ERA, 104 strikeouts, 48 walks & 26 HRs allowed in 183 innings pitched.

 In late September he was traded to the AL New York team for Kenny Greer. There he went 0-2 before retiring at the end of the year.

Career Stats: In his 21-season career, Tanana won 240 games (56th best all time) while taking 236 losses (17th all time). 

He struck out 2773 strikeouts (21st all time) with 34 shutouts (83rd all time) 616 starts (18th all time) a 3.36 ERA, 143 complete games (240th all time) in 4441 innings pitched (35th all time) and his 448 HRs allowed are the sixth most all time.

Retirement: He & his wife Cathy, are involved in the Christian community within pro baseball. He serves on the Pro Athletes Outreach Board of Directors, and they are involved in the Home Plate and Career Impact ministries. 

Honors: In 2006, Tanana was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.


Tanana Fanana said…
He was what Koufax was supposed to be at 22.In August 1976 at Yankee Stadium,he was leading 8-0 into the bottom of the 9th before they rallied and knocked him out,denying him what would prove to be a 20th win and likely CyYoung award.He is a living lesson for how not to overwork a young pitcher.That he dealt with the adversity of lost velocity by readjusting and enjoying a successful 20yr career when most would've faded into oblivion or abruptly retired is a tribute to his completeness as a pitcher.He should best be remembered as a Tiger: Detroit is where he was born and raised and revived his career.

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