It is hard to think of a baseball career that had two completely different eras of success more than Frank Tanana. OK, maybe Dennis Eckersley’s transformation from All Star starting pitcher to Hall of Fame closer might have been a bigger transition.
But Frank Tanana never stopped being a starting pitcher. The kind of starting pitcher he was changed and sometimes it was hard to remember he was one person having one long wonderful career.
When I got this card in my Frosted Flakes, Tanana was Nolan Ryan’s teammate on the California Angels. And the real question was which one of the two threw harder. Sure, the Ryan Express could bring it as well as anyone. But Frank Tanana regularly threw the ball in triple digits and led the league in strikeouts in 1975 and ERA in 1977.
Twice he threw 13 scoreless innings in a single game and, of course, got a no decision both times. The Detroit native was dominant and one of the elite pitchers in the game. And he made an impression on me because I thought he looked like Mark Hamill, which in 1978 meant everything for a 6 year old Sully.
He injured his shoulder in 1979 and things started to look bad for him. I remember when he was traded to the Red Sox in the Fred Lynn deal (more on that in a future card.) I didn’t yet realize that the Luke Skywalker looking left hander was no longer a fireballer. He flopped in Boston and signed with the Rangers for the 1982 season.
In Arlington he reinvented himself into a junk ball pitcher and won 15 games for the 1984 Rangers. Midway through the 1985 season, he was traded to the Tigers, his hometown team.
There, along with Jack Morris, Walt Terrell and Dan Petry (and later Doyle Alexander) he contributed to one of the best starting rotations in baseball. And as the Tigers played the Blue Jays down the stretch of a wild AL East race, it was Tanana who became the ultimate hero.
Throwing nothing but junk, he threw a 1-0 complete game shutout on the final day of the season, clinching the division.
He pitched for a few more seasons, throwing junk that was 25 miles per hour slower than his pitches in the late 1970’s. After stints with the Mets and a cameo with the Yankees, his career ended after 19 plus seasons.
The glamorous California fireballer and the tricky Detroit junk ball artist were one in the same.
This Kellogg’s All Star card was always a favorite of mine. Usually the backgrounds of the images were pretty realistic. They would be a stadium’s grandstand or the backstop. But here Tanana appears to be floating in the clouds.
He looks like an actual Angel.
With no stadium even in the bottom of the frame, he is other worldly… and looking like Mark Hamill helped that “not from this Earth” effect of the card.