Frank Tanana

June 19, 2007

Cheers for Mark Harris, Conclusion 

(Note: The following is by guest blogger/New York Mammoth Immortal Henry Wiggen, with punctuation freely inserted and spelling greatly improved by Josh Wilker)

“Pure Heat”

By Henry Wiggen

As my grandchildren would surely complain to you for days if they had the chance, I am constantly screeching about the importance of recycling nowadays. So leave me begin by recycling some old words that I saw as fairly crooked when I first read them many years ago: “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Southpaw.”

That’s from Mark Twain of course, except with a different title switched in there, my first book instead of Tom Sawyer, and here is what I have said about that starting of Huckleberry Finn previously on page 25 of the book I already mentioned and which is still available at Bison Books in case some money is burning a whole in your pocket: “I told Aaron that was a dirty trick to start a book that you no more opened then the writer was telling you to read another as well. He laughed, though probably I flung the book at him. I was a terrible kid for flinging things at people. I once knocked Holly unconcious with a sour apple. [Note: The Aaron mentioned was not the Immortal Hammering Hank Aaron but Aaron Webster that used to live next to Pop and me. Also Holly was not at that time of the sour apple but is now my long suffering wife as many know though we split up for some time and have only recently reconciled with a human bridge made out of grandchildren.]”

Leaving aside the fact that this above quotation is yet even more recycling, as you may have noticed, I am only mentioning these things so as to give you some idea of who I am if you have possibly forgot not only my four books in title The Southpaw, Bang the Drum Slowly, Ticket for a Seamstich, and It Looked Like For Ever but perhaps also my two league MVP awards and many All Star appearances and several heroic World Series exploits plus my 247 career lifetime wins and also a few key saves in my final season before getting drilled in the eyeball with a scorcher back though the box that made me move into a loving embrace of my golden years. Many of these things are matters of some renown I suppose but I see no harm in mentioning them. Especially with the fact that my youngest daughter Hilary’s latest man she drug home could only say with Cheese Doodles on his lips recently “Hey are you not the guy got drilled in the eyeball in Most Awful Sports Injuries Volume Three?” (I am not the only fellow withstanding this treatment. I once saw Joe Theismann who won a Super Bowl as no one seems to recall at a card show and he said the same clucks are also always coming up to him laughing about the joy of a shattered body that needs to be carried off the field in a stretcher. Why this is so enjoyable for the clucks I do not know. Who can figure out clucks?)

In fact speaking of clucks I was not at first the least bit interested in participating in this blog, which I do not even really understand the meaning of, blog I mean, though the word sounds like something unhealthy that might show up on a X-Ray that means it’s time to get the bullpen warmed because chances are you are a few pitches away from Hitting the Showers, if you understand my meaning. As I understand it a blog is mostly clucks trying to pretend they are sportswriters like old gigantic hogwash expert now many decades in a grand-piano packing case in the ground, Krazy Kress. Clucks pretending to be Krazy Kress? (Or as I also understand exists Krazy Kresses pretending to be clucks!) When contacted by this fellow Josh Wilker who explained his blog my first response was “I am too busy doing many other things instead such as recycling to save the globe and watching Magnum P.I. while eating my Cheese Doodles which are mine and not for the general consumption of Hilary’s latest man she drug home who wolfs them by the fistful as if he has been starving in a desert.”

But then he told me about Mark Harris. I did not know my old spelling and punctuation checker had passed away and it made me sad just as it has always made me sad hearing about old teammates and friends. I had not talked to him in a long time, since he added a few commas here and there into my last book It Looked Like For Ever (also available at Bison Books if you are in the mood to throw another reasonable chunk of money around for a book described by the Philadelphia Sunday Bulletin as “a warm, funny, touching book without a trace of sentimentality”). He was a nice fellow, an older guy who loved Carl Hubbell who some compare me to in the anals of the game and he also said he played baseball too though this is something practically everyone with a pulse tells me so who knows how deep the truth goes. Anyway I always liked him and I always thought he believed in my novels that he polished as much as anybody ever done, maybe even more than me sometimes.

But what can I say about him really, I asked this fellow who owns this blog you are reading now even though as far as I can tell there’s no money in it. I have not spoken to him in almost 30 years and never once cracked open any of the books he wrote himself and sent me besides checking to see if I was mentioned, which I wasn’t except sometimes on the back cover.

“Well,” said this Josh Wilker fellow, who to his credit did not ever yell through the phone to check if I was the guy that got drilled in the eyeball in Most Awful Sports Injuries Volume Three but instead asked me about Red Traphagen and Sid Goldman and Sad Sam Yale and others until the answers started collecting into a big pile of gloom.

“Well,” he said after getting me going about recycling for a while to get away from the gloomy pile of dead teammates. “You can write whatever you want. Anything you write will be a way to honor the memory of Mark Harris because Mark Harris did so much to help you get your story out.”

“He didn’t do that much,” I snapped, forgetting to not speak ill of the dead for a moment, if saying that they didn’t do that much is speaking ill. “I mean, he was a wonderful fellow and loved baseball but I done most of the heavy lifting in those books.” I got aholt of myself before saying more but thought: How much does it take to put in a few commas and meanwhile my hand was always a claw after writing one of those books all winter?

“Oh, I know, I know,” this blog half-cluck/half-want to be Krazy Kress Josh Wilker hurries to say. “I merely meant that he was always there when you wrote your books, like a trusty bullpen catcher throughout your career getting you warm for every 1 of your wins.”

I thought about that for a while. One thing that was always big to me was my catcher, from Red Traphagen to Bruce Pearson who I roomed with to Piney Woods who I roomed with after Bruce died all the way to Tom Roguski, Coker’s son, who I also roomed with for a few seconds my last season before my starring role in Most Awful Sports Injuries Volume III.

“Maybe you can write something about one of my baseball cards,” Josh Wilker said in a voice already halfway out the door and defeated.

“I rather tell about the necessity of recycling,” I said.

“Yes, certainly, that would be amazing!” he yelled, back in the door. “The only thing is Mr. Wiggen is it’s got to somehow connect even on a very small level to one of my baseball cards.”

So he sent me through the computer a photo of the card you see here which Holly had to remove from the email to the computer itself so I could look at if I want to for I do not know how to do such minor things anymore that everyone knows how to do such as even turn on the damn TV to watch Magnum P.I. I looked at it a little, the card, and also looked at what Josh Wilker sent me about the player there. Here is what he sent me:

Dear Mr. Wiggen,

Thank you SO MUCH for doing this! You don’t know how much I appreciate it as a huge fan of you and also of your trusty bullpen catcher Mark Harris.

Attached is a card of Frank Tanana that I thought you might have some thoughts about. He was selected straight out of high school by California with their number one pick in the June 1971 draft, the same month and year your career abruptly ended. As you may well know (I am actually hoping you may have continued to have some dealings with the California franchise after your retirement), Frank Tanana was an extremely hard-throwing left-hander who reached the big leagues as quickly and as young as you did and had quite a lot of early success (though not as much as you). He lasted a long time in the league, even a little bit longer than you, and had almost as many career wins (240 to your 247), though he did not enjoy any 20-win seasons or World Series victories, as you did. I’m not at all trying to make the case that he was your equal, but out of all my cards (which are largely from my childhood years of 1975 through 1980) he seemed like the one that had the most connections to you. He even started his career with California and ended it with New York, just as you started yours with New York and ended it with California. He was also born on July 3, exactly one day before your patriotic birthday.

But actually the one main reason I sent along this card as the one that might give you something to talk about is that Frank Tanana and you are among a very select few in history who have ever been able, at least for a little while, to reach back and throw PURE HEAT. In the season just before the photo on the card I sent you (Tanana was just 21 years old through the first half of the season, just one year older than you in The Southpaw, Tanana went 16 and 9 with a 2.69 ERA and 269 strikeouts in 259 innings. In one game alone he fanned 17 men.

There are more men who have walked on the moon than there are southpaws who know what it feels like to throw that kind of heat. Frank Tanana’s one of these few, and of course you are another. Also, Frank Tanana knows as well as anyone what it’s like to lose that fastball, having arm trouble by his mid-20s that turned him into a junkballer for the rest of his career. This seems like something you might be able to talk about too.

Anyway, thanks again for doing this, Mr. Wiggen. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it.

–Josh Wilker

Well, in answer to his questions I did not have much to do with California or with baseball a-tall after retiring. It wasn’t easy walking away but when I finally did it was like a door shut and I tossed away the key. I still watched a game from time to time but I cannot recall ever seeing this fellow Frank Tanana throwing either heat or slop. I do recognize something of course from the photo itself here and it is the look on Frank Tanana’s face. That is the look of someone like I used to be and maybe still am though now it means I am a old fool. That look is pure and unshakeable confidence. He is of course just standing there not even on a mound when the photo is being took but even there he is got his hands up and ready for his motion and his fingers on the ball and that is waking the feeling of pitching, of being ready to pitch. And when that feeling awakes in the body of a fellow who can reach back for the smoke and the smoke is always there then there is not a better feeling in the world for you cannot be beat. That is what I see in this card, a young man like I once was a thousand decades ago before such things as hips started crumbling who believed from head to toe he could not be beat.

I will end by recycling one more thing and pleading that you all recycle too for the world is no longer young with a blazing fastball to get out of every jam. No we are all one big old junkballer who better learn to think things through every step of the way and be extra careful at all times or we are all going to get shelled and hit the showers for good. This following is from my book The Southpaw (which the New York Times called “a distinguished and unusual book”) because it is a part I think of when I think of this young Frank Tanana and also of myself and also of my old trusty bullpen catcher of many years Mark Harris, may he rest in peace. It is from page 147 and spring training before my first full year in the majors and if I do say so myself it is not half bad, though it makes me feel a little sad now to read it:

I guess I was really in the best shape of my life. I could of shouted and sung, for I felt so good. Did you ever feel that way? Did you ever look down at yourself, and you was all brown wherever your skin was out in the sun, and you was all loose in every bone and every joint of your body, and there was not a muscle that ached, and you felt like if there was a mountain that needed moving you could up and move it, or you could of swam an ocean, or held your breath an hour if you liked, or you could run 2 miles and finish in a sprint? And your hands! They fairly itched to hold a baseball, and there was not a thing you could not do once you had that ball. You could fire it like a cannon and split a hair at 300 feet, and you could make it dance and hop, and the batter could no more hit your stuff then make the sun stand still.


  1. 1.  I don’t know what to say about this column but Frank Tanana was the best LHP I ever saw, probably because I saw him as a kid and he left an impression. I’ve got to read this book you keep referring to. I thought I’d read every fictional baseball book ever written between the ages of 8 – 13 as long as it was in a library since we never bought books.

  2. 2.  Great, but what does this have to do with Frank Tanana?

    Sorry couldn’t resist.

  3. 3.  Why is Tanana wearing his home whites in a picture obviously shot at the Oakland Coliseum?

  4. 4.  1: Yeah, he sure seemed like a marvel to me, too.

    Did you know he has started more games than any American League southpaw ever?

    2 Ha!

    For those who don’t know to what Tucker Ashford is referring, here’s an explanation of the Baseball Think Factory running gag:


  5. 5.  Brilliance.

    Not only did I enjoy reading this, I also enjoyed speculating about the amount of time and energy you spent finding a pitcher whose career had such parallels with Wiggin.

  6. 6.  “Formerly Fast Frank” is one of the great nicknames of my lifetime.

  7. 7.  Messers Wiggen and Wilker (two men as proximate authorially as alphabetically, it would seem),

    Speaking as a gent with more than a passing interest in how the both of you express the true and hidden aspects of the game of baseball, and as a fan of Mr. Wiggen’s just as brilliant playing career — I know from the reading of this blog that Mr. Wilker’s exploits on the diamond did not amount to much in the skeem of things but the roominations he shares here please me no little bit — I sincerely thank both you right joes for offering such mental entertainment.

  8. 8.  Simply brilliant.

  9. 9.  3

    … Believe it or not, those are the Angels’ road grays. The gray just never showed up that well on cards of that time.

  10. 10.  Some additional Tananania:

    Tanana beat the Mariners in the first ever game at the Kingdome and beat the White Sox in the first ever game at the “New” Comiskey. He also won the last game at old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. More importantly, he won 2 division-clinching games, for the Angels in ’79 and–in a moment of drama worthy of Henry Wiggen in his prime–for his hometown Tigers in ’87 with a 1-0 shutout against the team the Tigers were tied with (Blue Jays) on the last day of the season.

    He became a born-again Chirstian when his fastball left his injury-wracked arm. I’ve read that he points to being deeply shaken by the tragic death of his teammate Lyman Bostock as a turning point in his conversion from fast-living smoke-throwing phenom to pious family man.

    When I was a kid I thought his name was pronounced to rhyme with (the old TV show) Sha-Na-Na. I’m still not entirely sure how to say his name.

  11. 11.  I remember announcers saying Tanana as rhyming with banana. That doesn’t mean they were right or that my memory is right, though.

  12. 12.  What a waste of my time. Frank Tanana doesn’t even rate a mention until the quotation in Wilker’s letter. Meantime, Wiggen blusters and exhorts us to recycle and tells us that he feels like some young kid full of confidence, or not. Not only bait-and-switch, but badly written.

  13. 13.  12: Didn’t mean to make anybody feel cheated, just trying to spread some love for the man who gave the world The Southpaw and Bang the Drum Slowly. That said, I probably should have included an intro to Mr. Wiggen’s piece warning that it might only appeal (if to anyone) to those already familiar with his books–and with what his tireless aide Mark Harris referred to as Wiggen’s “ungrammar” (for more on that and other Harris thoughts see http://tinyurl.com/2mvups). I figured that such would be the case but decided to let it slide without comment so as to quickly make way for the Southpaw (Wiggen that is, if not Tanana).

  14. 14.  I think (hope?) our friend scareduck is being sarcastic.

    This has the idiom down really really well; it’s a lovely tribute.

  15. 15.  Dear Scareduck,

    May your bill become infected from polluted water, and your feathers fallout worse than Dr. Phil’s hair. You may now return to your predictable and colorless readings of the pun-pushing scribes that fill the pages at http://www.espn.com.


  16. 16.  Hats off to a creative soul, who writes because he must, for the sake of writing. No dollars necessary. Just art. For its own sake. Keep up the great work Wilker . . . you rock.

  17. 17.  1. Posted by Josh Wilker
    Thanks a lot for the praise, Catfish and Linkmeister. It means a lot.

    I just wanted to also say that criticism, such as what scareduck offered (unless, as Linkmeister suggested, scareduck’s comment was sarcastic), is welcome here, and I’m hoping that if such criticism is disagreed with the disagreement can be voiced without showing disrespect to the critic. In other words, no voodoo curses allowed! : )

    As Henry Wiggen said (in The Southpaw, page 37), “Just to see 2 guys fighting makes me weak.”

    (Exception to the no curses allowed rule: Curses are allowed if they involve the targeting of Bucky Dent.)

  18. 18.  That was beautiful.
    No matter what Bake McBride says, you have not lost the heat.

  19. 19.  I went through all of the relative nuisance of registering just so I could say this: That was brilliant. And thank you for turning me on to the fact that there is a fourth Henry Wiggen story; I hadn’t known!

    But your Wiggen was dead on. Bravo!

  20. 20.  19: Thanks for jumping through the hoops of registering to tell me that, Rndng3rd. Much appreciated!

  21. To all who remember……Tanana and Ryan then two days of cryin’.

  22. I wasn’t old enough to have seen Tanana play during his fireballer days… But I have fond memories of his soft tossing lefty junk throwing antics during his days at a hometown Tiger. Along with Walt Terrell, a relative soft tosser as well as far as right handers are concerned… The mid-80s Tigers had two starters that completely embodied the baseball colloquialism of “serviceable”. They both always managed to eat innings and keep the Tigers in games… never pitching brilliantly but never seeming to get blown out… and both were pretty much guarenteed to hang one breaking ball per start that would lead to a mammoth opposition home run.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: