Pirates' Lonnett was a man who valued family
Chuck Tanner promised that if he ever became a major-league manager, Joe Lonnett would be one of his coaches. Tanner stayed true to his word, and Lonnett followed him to the Chicago White Sox and Oakland A's.
When the Pirates traded catcher Manny Sanguillen to the A's for Tanner in 1977, it provided a long-awaited homecoming for Lonnett.
The third base coach for the Pirates' 1979 World Series champions, Lonnett was an embodiment of their "We Are Family" slogan, a Beaver Falls native whose wife and five daughters often baby-sat the players' children. A Brighton Township resident for 45 years, Lonnett died Monday. He was 84.
"We grew up with it. We have a lot of memories with him, with the ballplayers," said daughter Barbara Lonnett, of Leetsdale. "It was kind of a dream for us for him to come to Pittsburgh. It was icing on the cake.
"He still left early and came home late, but he was here and we could see him. That '79 season, as cliche as it sounds, they truly were an amazing, close-knit group of guys, as humble as can be."
Lonnett spent 24 years in baseball as a player and coach, signing with the Philadelphia Phillies as an amateur free agent in 1948. He missed two seasons while serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II and the Korean War. Lonnett spent four seasons as a catcher with the Phillies, from 1956-59, batting .166 with six home runs and 27 RBI. His roommate was Robin Roberts, the Hall of Fame pitcher who died in May 2010.
After playing and coaching in the Phillies' minor-league system, Lonnett coached with Tanner, a New Castle native, with the Chicago White Sox from 1971-75 and the A's in '76. His wife, Alvida, and daughters Maria, Judy, Joyce, Barb and Nancy would visit Lonnett when the White Sox returned East and made three-game road swings.
When Tanner was traded to the Pirates for Sanguillen - only the second trade in MLB history to involve a manager - Lonnett returned home. He wore Sanguillen's No. 35 jersey until the Pirates traded for Sanguillen a year later, then switched to No. 32. Lonnett's family saw the Pirates as an extended family of big brothers or father figures.
"I didn't see him as a celebrity," Barb said. "My dad loved all of the players, literally, like sons. They were all so close. When we were around Chuck Tanner, Willie Stargell, Dave Parker, Bill Madlock — all of them — we didn't see them as professional athletes. That's just how we grew up."
In recent years, Lonnett battled Alzheimer's disease and was cared for by Alvida, his wife of 56 years. He attended the 25th anniversary celebration of the World Series champions in 2004, where Barb recalled a tearful reunion with former Pirates players and coaches.
"The admiration and love they had for my father, you see it," Barb said. "I have never heard anyone say anything derogatory about my father. It's always, 'He's the kindest man I ever met.' It's a testament to who he was. He touched so many people's lives - and I don't think he realized that. It was never about him. He was a man of immeasurable kindness, someone who was selfless always and loved his wife and kids."
Lonnett is survived by Alvida Pisani Lonnett, daughters Maria Lonnett Burgess, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass.; Judy Lonnett and her husband, Rick Morgan; Joyce and her husband, Rick Schaughency, all of Brighton Township; Barb; and Nancy Lonnett Roman and her husband, Chris Roman, of Beaver; and six grandchildren. Family and friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. today at Noll Funeral Home in Beaver. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Friday at SS Peter & Paul Church in Beaver, followed by interment at Beaver Cemetery.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Marte’s 2 fine defensive plays rescue Pirates in victory over Reds
- Pirates trade for Dodgers 1B/OF Morse, Mariners LHP Happ
- Pirates place Burnett on 15-day disabled list
- Hurdle: Soria likely to assume setup role with Watson
- Gameday: Pirates at Cincinnati, Aug. 1, 2015
- Pirates bolster bullpen by trading for former closer Soria
- Pirates’ Burnett endures another poor start in blowout loss to Reds
- Pirates acquire pitcher Blanton from Royals for cash
- Gameday: Pirates at Reds, July 31, 2015
- Pirates notebook: Blanton introduced; Worley designated for assignment
- Pirates notebook: Prospect Tucker unaware of ‘trade’ frenzy