I’m going to be up-front here from the start: I’m a BIG fan of Frank Tanana. He is responsible for one of my favorite athlete quotes of all-time. Late in his career he said something like “I’m a guy who threw 90s in the 1970s and 70s in the 1990s.” The guy was decent and he had a sense of humor to go with it.
Tanana was a first round pick way back in 1971 by the Angels and made his big league debut at the tender age of 19 in 1973. Early in his career Tanana was a flame-throwing lefty. He teamed with Noland Ryan to give the Angels two of the bigger power arms in all of baseball. It was not uncommon for these two to strike out a combined 600 batters in a single season. HUGE.
Frank enjoyed his finest years in California with the Angels, making three All-Star games in a row and getting Cy Young votes three times. Now, you may look at that and think, “hey, how in the world can a three time All Star be considered mediocre.” Consider this: Frank Tanana made his last All-Star game appearance when he was 24 years old and pitched in the Major Leagues until he was 39. That’s 15 years of All-Star free baseball. Now that’s mediocre.
After leaving the Angels, Tanana played in Boston (one season), Texas (3.5 seasons), Detroit (7.5 seasons), and then split a season with the Mets and Yankees before finally hanging it up.
Prior to turning 25 years old, Tanana led the AL in strike outs one season and in WHIP during another. He even led the AL in ERA+ once for good measure. The guy was a legitimate star for the first five seasons of his career. However, during that time period, the young Tanana threw a dangerous amount of innings and pitches. This dude was throwing close to 300 innings a season at the age of 21 and his arm just could not take it.
Most pitchers would choose to give up at this point, but not Frank. He got his stuff together, changed the way he pitched and hung on another 15 seasons on grit and determination. When Tanana retired in 1993 he had a record of 240-236 with an ERA+ of 106, darn near perfectly mediocre. However, there a few things that stand out:
- Over 2,700 strike outs
- More wins than Andy Pettitte, Whitey Ford and Catfish Hunter
- More strike outs than Warren Spahn and Bob Feller.
- In fact, he ranks 21st in big league history in Ks. Everyone ahead of him is in the Hall of Fame or will be except for Mickey Lolich and maybe Curt Schilling.
Tanana gave up home runs to both Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds and 11 alone to Rickey Henderson. Good stuff.