Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The 1974 Topps Rookie All-Star Team - Frank Tanana

Here they are - the Topps All-Star Rookie Team, selected "by the Youth of America" following the 1974 season and featured in the 1975 Topps set. 

I have completed the run of these up through 2017 Series One, at least all regular issue cards that bear the All-Star Rookie Trophy. 

Topps decided to skip the Trophies on the 1974 Topps Set, but they made a triumphant return in 1975. I wanted to show my appreciation for this expression of good judgement, so for the 1974 Lineup, I will do a separate post for each player. This was a pretty good crop of players, so let's dive in! 
Left Handed Pitcher - Frank Tanana

Frank had two very different major league careers. He came up to the California Angels in 1973 as a pretty boy flamethrower, and re-invented himself in the mid to late 80s as a gritty left handed finesse pitcher.

Despite the stereotype that hard-throwing fastball pitchers are wild, Tanana was known for great control throughout his early career, which helped propel him to the big leagues. Pitchers that throw hard also allow hard contact - limiting walks meant that the home runs allowed hurt a little less. His rookie season he gave up 27 home runs, which was the 3rd highest for any pitcher in the American League. But Tanana also missed bats with regularity, ranking 7th in the league in strikeouts. His 19 losses in his rookie campaign did not make a dent in his confidence, as his sophomore season was a breakout success. His strikeout totals spiked, leading all of baseball with 269 Ks. His strikeout rate per nine innings also was tops in the AL, and he led the league for the next two seasons in his ratio of strikeouts to walks. He was still giving up over 20 homers a season, but his ERA and FIP was near the best in baseball.   

Tanana reeled off three straight All-Star seasons in 1976, 1977, and 1978. He led the AL in ERA in '77, and shutout the opposition a league leading 7 times. One shutout came on Opening Day, the debut of Seattle's Kingdome. The Mariners were held scoreless despite getting 9 hits and drawing 2 walks against the rising star. The innings were piling up for Tanana, which didn't seem to bother him. In May of 1977, he pitched a complete game in every single start - and then did it again in June. All told, he had a string of 14 consecutive complete games from April 29th until July 7th. He allowed 72 runs in 1977, but 24 of those runs came in the last full month of the season. Something was wrong. 

With his signature pitch,  a 100+ mph fastball, taken out of his arsenal, he struggled with "a sore arm" as he bounced from the Angels, to Boston for half a season, to Texas where he lost a league high 19 games in 1982.  By 1985, the Rangers were looking in other directions for rotation help, and were happy to find a taker for Tanana. The Detroit Tigers gave up minor league prospect Duane James. The Rangers probably didn't think Tanana would outlast the young righty by more than 8 seasons.

Tanana credits his faith and his arm injury for turning around his life. Losing teammate Lyman Bostock also gave him a new perspective. But it was the trade to Detroit that turned around his career. His hometown team provided a chance for Tanana to take the same repertoire of fastball, curveball, change-up as his early days and slow everything down. In California, his bread and butter was revving up the fastball to triple digits. With the Tigers, it was taking a fastball in the high eighties and pairing it with an agonizingly slow change up. His curve was not as sharp as it used to be, but the break was still sufficient to fool hitters and throw off their timing.

He pitched his final season in 1993, splitting his time between the Tigers, the Mets, and 3 starts for the New York Yankees. He finished with 34 career shutouts, 2773 Strikeouts, and 240 wins. He amassed over 30 WAR by the age of 24, which was similar to guys like Vida Blue, Hal Newhouser, Dennis Eckersley, Don Drysdale, Felix Hernandez and Fernando Valenzuela at the same age. He is 22nd All-Time in career Strikeouts. When he reached the Hall of Fame ballot, he did not receive a single vote. He shared that ballot in 1999 with inductees Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount, and George Brett; not to mention Bert Blyleven, Tommy John, Jim Kaat, and Luis Tiant - pitchers with similarly uneven but strong cases. But none of those guys were Topps All-Star Rookies!


  1. I never knew Tanana as a fireballer, but I do remember him from when I was a kid. I think he is underrated. A Hall of Famer? No, but very good and overlooked. Thanks for the post. I learned something new about him today.

  2. Great post! It's a crime that I don't own Tanana's '77 Topps card yet. I need to rectify that ASAP.

    1. ^^ Sorry, was still signed in under my mom's account!

  3. Yes! The best Topps rookie cup team!

  4. Excellent narrative on one of my favorite Angels. Well done.