Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #200, Frank Tanana (Article 39)
by Paul Semendinger
In 1977, when this card was printed, Frank Tanana was a flame-throwing left-handed pitcher coming off his best season ever. In 1976, Frank Tanana went 19-10, 2.43. That season followed a stellar 1975 season when he went 16-9, 2.62.
Tanana teamed with Nolan Ryan at the top of the Angels’ rotation. Both of those pitchers looked unbeatable.
Frank Tanana was also excellent in 1977. That year he led the league in ERA as he put up a 15-9, 2.54 record.
And, 1978 was also good to Frank as he went 18-12, 3.65.
Tanana’s overall record for those four seasons was 68-40, 2.79. Over those seasons, Tanana threw 1,026 innings (or an average of 256.5 innings a season).
It could be argued at the time, but one might be considered foolish to suggest this today, that Frank Tanana was the better of the two aces on the California Angels’ staff. Over those same four years, the future Hall-of-Famer, Nolan Ryan, went just 60-59, 3.29.
One thing was for certain, Ryan and Tanana both threw hard and threw a lot. Nolan Ryan totaled 1,016 innings pitched in that same period.
Frank Tanana was an All-Star in 1976, 1977, and 1978.
Nolan Ryan was an All-Star in 1975 and 1977.
It looked like these two pitchers would go on winning forever. They were supposed to lead the California Angels to greatness.
It didn’t happen.
While Nolan Ryan pitched forever, and kept winning games and striking out batters with a fastball that never seemed to age (After 1978, Ryan pitched a remarkable 15 more seasons throwing 2,917 innings and winning 173 games. Over those years, Nolan Ryan struck out 3,028 batters.)
But this is about Frank Tanana, not Nolan Ryan.
Nolan Ryan never pitched for the Yankees.
If one goes back and looks as Tanana’s stats from above, the one statistic that stands out as an outlier was his ERA in 1978 – 3.65, which was more than a full run higher than the previous season. In fact, that was the highest ERA of his young career.
After 1978, Tanana would never be the same. Up to that point, he battled arm injuries and pain. After 1978, he tried to learn to be a different type of pitcher – one who relied on smarts, not speed. The results were mixed. He also missed time, two months, in 1979 with a shoulder injury.
As Nolan Ryan kept dominating hitters, Frank Tanana struggled. He did log more than 200 innings pitched in 1980, but his ERA crept over 4.00 for the first time in his career (11-12, 4.15).
Tanana became a Red Sox in 1981 and went 4-10, 4.01.
In 1982, now pitching for the Texas Rangers, he went 7-18, 4.21.
But he kept on pitching!
In 1984, Tanana won 15 games (against 15 losses) for the Rangers. He threw 246.1 innings that year and had a 3.25 ERA. Remarkably, all those year later, he had become successful again.
Then, over the three seasons 1986-1988, now pitching for the Tigers, Frank Tanana went 41-30. He was a winner (for the most part) again.
And he just kept on pitching…
With his career winding down, at age 39 in 1993, Frank Tanana pitched for the Mets. He threw 183 innings for the Mets that year going 7-15. 4.48.
And then, on September 17, 1993, Frank Tanana was traded (for minor leaguer Kenny Greer) across boroughs and became a Yankee.
Down the stretch, Frank Tanana made three starts for the Yankees:
On September 19, he allowed 4 runs (3 earned) in 7 innings against the Red Sox in an 8-3 loss.
On September 25, he allowed 2 runs (1 earned) in 6.1 innings in a 3-1 loss to the Blue Jays
On October 1, he 4 runs (3 earned) in 6.1 innings to the Tigers in a game the Yankees would win 9-6. Tanana did not get the decision.
That game on October 1 was the last of Tanana’s career. He pitched in just three games as a Yankee.
The last batter Tanana ever faced was Chris Gomez who singled off of him. The previous batter, Rich Rowland, was the last batter Tanana ever retired. He struck out.
Above, I chronicled that from 1979 to the end of his career, Nolan Ryan pitched a remarkable 2,917 innings.
Over that same period, Frank Tanana was just as remarkable. He threw 2,867.1 innings in that period.
The 1993 was the final season for both Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana.