Garner honors longtime mentor Tanner

Garner honors longtime mentor Tanner

PITTSBURGH -- More than two decades have passed since they were in uniform together, but the bond between Phil Garner and Chuck Tanner hasn't dulled a bit.

Tanner, now 79, and 18 years into retirement, has dozens -- no, make that hundreds -- of Garner stories. It's a safe bet that before the week is over, the two will have covered most of them.

Tanner and Garner are reunited for the 2006 All-Star Game. Garner is the National League manager, and Tanner is an honorary coach, an arrangement buoyed by Garner in an effort to salute his longtime mentor and the man who he credits for most of his baseball success.

The two were together in Pittsburgh in 1979 when the Pirates won the World Series. Garner, an infielder, hit .500 (12-for-24). Tanner skippered that team, reaching the pinnacle of a 19-year managerial career when the Pirates topped the Orioles in seven games to win the World Series.

Garner lobbied the league to allow him to invite Tanner to sit with him in the dugout during the All-Star Game on Tuesday. Tanner, who lives in a Pittsburgh suburb, said attending the game in such fashion is one of the crowning moments of his life.

Asked if it was his biggest thrill since winning the World Series, Tanner said, "This is bigger."

"This is the top of the mountain for me," he said. "I'm older, I love the game as much now as I did when I was 17. To have a man take time out of his busy schedule to tell me he wanted me to be a coach, it was unbelievable. I never cry, but after I hung up, I had tears in my eyes."

Since taking over as manager of the Astros in 2004, Garner has mentioned Tanner on a regular basis, giving detailed accounts of the sound advice his old skipper gave him.

Tanner remembers Garner as a player who very much personified his nickname -- "Scrap Iron."

Take, for instance, the time when Cubs first baseman Bill Buckner was coming down the pike, ready to break up a double play in a crucial game the Pirates had to win during a heated pennant race.

"He threw it right through him," Tanner said of Garner. "He put his hand up, he broke his finger and he made the double play. He never got out of the way. He stayed there and he always, always made the double play. He taped up his fingers and played."

Same goes for his nose.

"A ball hit home plate, he broke his nose and blood was flying," Tanner said. "I go out there to look at him with a trainer. [Garner] said, 'I'm not coming out, I'm not coming out.' I said, 'I just want to see your nose.'"

After a quick exam, Tanner concluded, "You're more handsome now, don't worry."

And then, the inevitable.

"He hit a line drive," Tanner said. "Base hit."

On Tuesday, Tanner will sit next to Garner for a game that may not count in the standings, but will carry a special meaning for two of Pittsburgh's favorite sports figures.

"Chuck's Pittsburgh," Garner said. "This is great for him."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.