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Jeff Banister Returns to The Pirates As A Special Assistant

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Banny comes home

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Texas Rangers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Banister spent 29 years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Now, after four seasons with the Texas Rangers, the club today announces his return.

In a widely anticipated move, the Pittsburgh Pirates today announced that former bench coach Jeff Banister would be returning to the organization with the title of Special Assistant, Baseball Operations.

From the team’s official release:

Banister returns to the Pirates organization after spending the last four seasons as the manager of the Texas Rangers, where he compiled a 325-313 record. The 54-year-old Banister led the Rangers to back-to-back American League West Division titles in each of his first two seasons at the helm in 2015 and 2016 to become just the fourth manager to capture division crowns in each of his first two seasons as a Major League manager since the start of three-division play in 1994.

Prior to joining Texas, Banister was a member of the Pirates organization for 29 seasons. In his most recent role with the Bucs, he served as the Bench Coach beginning on August 10, 2010 through the 2014 season.

“Jeff Banister returns to the Pirates as a valuable resource, instructor and advisor for our front office, Major League team and player development system,” said Huntington. “Jeff brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and a passion for the Pirates back to the organization. We are thrilled to add a quality person and baseball man to help an organization that he loves get better.”

The term “special assistant” is often a fluid one. One day after bringing in David Eckstein in a similarly nebulous role, the club has added a second, authoritative voice to a growing group. Though Huntington may yet clarify Banister’s role, it would be safe to assume that he would be involved with the club’s offense approach to some degree. With the team already having brought on a new hitting coach and assistant hitting coach, it is clear that the organization has put considerable resources towards its biggest need.

A Family Affair

As said above, Banny is no stranger to this organization, and the feeling of family that can only be ingrained after spending 29 years together was felt strongly a few years ago.

I had the pleasure of covering the Chuck Tanner Awards Banquet, an annual event carrying the beloved former Pirates’ manager’s name, put on by the Pittsburgh Rotary honoring some figures in baseball both locally and nationally. Banister was on hand to receive the namesake Chuck Tanner award, given to the MLB Manager of the Year as voted on by the awards committee.

I wrote up the night at a previous gig — which you can read here — but felt it appropriate to reprint this passage in light of today’s announcement:

Clint Hurdle strolled to the podium with a smile befitting the task he was about to perform.

He was there to introduce a colleague, one of only 29 men in the world that have the same job.

He was there to introduce a friend.

“We tell our players that the best attribute a man can have is his dependability,” Hurdle said. “Jeff Banister is a dependable man.”

Banister was awarded the Chuck Tanner MLB Manager of the year award at the Chuck Tanner Awards Banquet this past Saturday. He, along with Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage (Chuck Tanner Memorial Award), former Pirates CEO Kevin McClatchy (Chuck Tanner lifetime achievement award) and others gathered at the renowned River’s Club in downtown Pittsburgh to receive the awards whose namesake still invokes a considerable helping of love and pride.

Chuck Tanner managed the 1979 World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates, among other teams in his 18-year managerial career. Tanner was known to have a deep affection for his players, affection that was returned in kind by those same players and is still felt today, nearly five years after his passing. The “We are Family” Pirates arrived at using that song for a rallying cry not by coincidence, but by reflecting the feeling of their clubhouse.

With a team comprised of many unique characters, it was Tanner that masterfully united them.

The proceedings at his memorial awards banquet would no doubt have left Tanner feeling very satisfied with the current culture of the organization. In Hurdle’s introduction, feelings of pride and family wafted through the air as Hurdle spoke of Banister.

“He represents much more to the Texas Rangers than just a manager,” Hurdle would say. “We are so happy for the joy, for the success, for the first-guessing that he got to do all last season for the first time after second-guessing me for four years in that dugout.”

In case you were wondering: yes, Hurdle followed up that playful barb with a bellowing guffaw that could only signify the satisfaction of landing a good zinger against a good friend.

To his credit, the lessons that Tanner passed down for current-day MLB managers were not lost on Banister. “This is not an award I accept by myself,” Banister said as he began his remarks. “When you learn about Chuck Tanner and you listen to his players, they will all come back to the same thing..you heard it tonight…about the smile and how much they loved him. He changed their lives to be better. He knew no stranger. He never forgot a name.”