TBT- A Lasting Legacy – Frank Tanana – Detroit Tigers


Former Tigers Pitcher Frank Tanana

Last Thursday, I shared the story of Gary Gaetti, who was a member of the 1987 World Series Champion Minnesota Twins. Who did the Twins beat to go the the World Series? The Detroit Tigers 4 games to 1 which was impressive since the Tigers had taken 8 of the 12 games from the Twins in the regular season. The Tigers had been in an epic battle with the Toronto Blue Jays that came down to a head-to-head 3 game series in Detroit on the final weekend of the season. The Jays were up by one game entering the series and had just swept the Tigers in Toronto the week before. The Tigers won the first two which meant the title came down to the last game.  If Toronto won, they would force a playoff. If Detroit won, they took the crown. Enter Frank Tanana. Now Tanana had been around for a few years at this point. 1987 was his 16th year in the Majors. He was a 3 time All-Star and 3 times finished in the top 5 in Cy Young voting but he was 10 years removed from those days.  At this point of his career, he used an array of breaking balls and change-ups to keep batters off-balance.

Tanana is congratulated by Lou Whittaker after pitching a title-clenching 1-0 gem against the Blue Jays in 1987

He used that repertoire to scatter 6 hits and 3 walks in a complete game 1-0 shutout of the Jays, striking out 9 along the way. In Warren Wilbert’s book “Baseball’s Iconic 1-0 games“, chapter 2 is devoted to Tanana’s masterpiece – a pitching duel between Tanana and the Jays’ Jimmy Key. Key pitched a 3 hitter, but one of those hits was a Larry Herndon home run in the second inning. And while the Tigers would ultimately fall short of a World Series title, that Tanana game lives on as a great game at a key moment.  Wilbert says it this way. “Almost lost in the midst of a championship on the line in the season’s last game is the 1-0 gem Tanana threw. This one brought with it a championship…”

Early in his Career, Tanana and Nolan Ryan were the dominant 1-2 punch in the Angel’s rotation

So, what makes a legacy.  Sometimes it is a moment when you rise above the circumstance and achieve something amazing. I remember hearing the story of Canadian hockey hero Paul Henderson. I wrote a post about him a couple years back and despite scoring the most iconic goal in Canadian hockey history, he says that the best day of his life was not that day, but rather the day he became a Christian.  Tanana’s story is similar.  Despite this amazing game, and his stellar career of more than 2 decades, Tanana’s faith in God is where his legacy lies.

This article from mlive.com says as much.  It talks about this memorable game in `87 as the career defining moment for Tanana, yet it goes on to share how a night in November 4 years earlier is what defines his life.  Tanana says “Being a Major League Baseball player, that was my security. It was my significance. It was who I was as a man. But then I hurt my arm and came to realize that this career could be over. Then who are you? I was nobody. That wasn’t right. A man shouldn’t be defined by the work that he does.” The article goes on to say that on Nov. 6, 1983. Tanana was sitting around an Arizona hotel room when his life changed forever. He continues “I understood that I was dead in my sins. I realized I had no chance of having a relationship with my Holy God. But His son, Jesus, had lived a perfect life and paid a penalty for my sin. If I trusted my life in Him and asked Him for forgiveness and asked Him to come into my life, that I would be a brand new preacher, I would b e a brand new person. My sins would all be forgiven. On November 6, 1983, I made that commitment of trusting in Jesus. I have walked with him ever since. For nearly 33 years, God has been my rock on which I’ve built my life … I have a great marriage and a wonderful family because of Christ. I give Him all the praise and glory. That was my moment of my conversion, my moment of trusting Christ. I have been with Him ever since.”

Tanana speaking at Tiger’s faith night. He has been a regular part of these nights for 3 decades in Detroit.

After his baseball career ended, Tanana became a regular speaker at Tigers faith nights, (By my count he has been a speaker at 31 of the 36 Faith nights the Tigers have held since 1987). He and his wife are also on the Board of Pro Athletes Outreach – and organization that seeks to share God’s love with professional athletes. You can check out his story in his words in this article from TheGoal.com.

Here are my takeaways from Tanana’s story

1- Not Defined by what you do – Tanana shared that baseball was his significance and apart from it, he felt empty. He said “A man shouldn’t be defined by the work that he does”.  One of my favorite stories in the Bible has to do with that.  It can be found in Genesis 32.22-32.  We read about Jacob at the end of a stressful day, wrestling with “a Man” in his tent.  There is no clear cut winner and Jacob asks for a blessing from his opponent. I’d heard this story many times before but when I was in my 20’s I heard it from the Amplified Version of the Bible and it took on new life.  Check out what it says.

27[The Man] asked him, What is your name? And [in shock of realization, whispering] he said, Jacob [supplanter, schemer, trickster, swindler]! 28 And He said, Your name shall be called no more Jacob [supplanter], but Israel [contender with God];

Do you see it?  Jacob realized who he was from his life of deceit and trickery – it is what his name means. But God changed his name and his legacy.  He offers the same to us.  Because all of us, on our own, have similar legacies – selfish, prideful, rebellious people who take advantage of others whenever possible to suit our own purposes. But when we realize our sinfulness and reach rock bottom, He offers to not leave us there, but to change us and our story. He offers us a happy ending.

Tanana pitched for his home town Tigers for 8 seasons.

2- Share your story – God has given Tanana a platform to share his story and Tanana has accepted.  He shares yearly at the Faith Nights that the Tigers organize and in his spare time, he reaches out to others in the Baseball world with his story and the hope that knowing Christ brings. What is your story? What is your platform? Will you take up the challenge to boldly share the difference God has made in your life? He will help you and use you to bring others to Himself. What a privilege it is to be a part of this amazing plan.

christop

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