Exercise number one, class: define the word nice. Your answer should be something akin to “pleasing, or possessing a sunny disposition.” Now, think if you will, that the word nice has been taken by Webster and given an entirely new definition. Rather than being “pleasing” nice is now listed in the dictionary as “13th century steel footwear worn by Scandinavian scholars.” Redefinition was something that Frank Tanana had to deal with. He had to remake himself from a flamethrowing strikeout artist to a softer tossing marksman.
A first round draft pick by the Angels in 1971, Tanana was fast-tracked to the Major Leagues and made his debut with California in 1973. The kid showed promise that year, making four starts and fashioning a 3.08 ERA. As a rookie in 1974, Frank finished second in strikeouts among AL southpaws while toiling for a poor Angels ballclub. The Angels may have had a roster with plenty room for improvement, but what talent they did have was exceptional. They had the best young righty-lefty tandem in all of baseball and one of the finest in baseball history, with Tanana and a fellow you may have heard of named Nolan Ryan.
Although they employed Tanana and Ryan, the Angels finished in the cellar in 1975 while Frank led the AL with 269 strikeouts. Tanana fashioned a fine 16-9 record for a poor team while finishing in a tie for third in the shutouts department. Tanana and Ryan gave Angels fans hope – the weakest of all possible words – when they were the only two pitchers in the American League to eclipse 200 strikeouts. They combined for 588 strikeouts in ’76, with Frank fanning 261 and Nolan sitting down 327 batters. Despite the tandems electric pitching, the Angels finished fourth thanks to a laughable offense.
An All-Star for the second time in 1977, Tanana led the junior circuit with a 2.54 ERA while tying for the league lead with seven shutouts. Frank’s 205 strikeouts were good for third in the league behind Ryan and Kansas City ace Dennis Leonard. Tanana went to his third straight All-Star game in 1978 and won 18 games for the Angels. He was California’s top pitcher in wins, innings pitched and shutouts. Limited to 18 games in 1979 because of an arm injury, Tanana nevertheless took part in the Angels first postseason action. He made one start in the ALCS against Baltimore, picking up a no decision in the process.
The arm injury Tanana suffered signalled the end to his days at the top of the leader board in strikeouts. Although he led California in strikeouts during the 1980 campaign, his 113 whiffs were a ways off the league leaders. Tanana was involved in a blockbuster trade on January 23rd, 1981, when he was sent to Boston with Joe Rudi for outfielder Fred Lynn and pitcher Steve Renko. Tanana pitched one uneventful year at Fenway before signing with the hapless Texas Rangers for the 1982 season.
After an 18-loss season in ’82, Tanana lowered his ERA to 3.16 in 1983 but still managed only seven wins for a poor Texas club. He won 15 games in 1984 but lost an identical 15 even though his ERA was a tidy 3.25. Saved from the Rangers in ’85, Tanana was dealt to Detroit and won half his starts in Motown. He went 15-10 in 1987 as the Tigers won the AL East. In the ALCS, Frank lost his only start and never again went to another postseason.
The Tigers fell to the basement in 1989. Tanana led the ’89 Tigers in innings pitched, strikeouts and ERA. He was the only Bengal pitcher to post an ERA under 3.60. He won thirteen games apiece in 1991 and ’92 and pitched one final year split between the two New York teams, pitching 200 innings for the thirteenth time in his career. Tanana rests 21st all-time in career strikeouts.
W 240/L 236/PCT.504/G 638/CG 143/IP 4,188/H 4,063/BB 1,255/SO 2,773/SHO 34/ERA 3.66