Luis Tiant

Luis Tiant
Luis Tiant 2009 Tribeca portrait.jpg
Tiant at the 2009 premiere of Lost Son of Havana
Born: (1940-11-23) November 23, 1940 (age 78)
Marianao, Cuba
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
July 19, 1964, for the Cleveland Indians
Last MLB appearance
September 4, 1982, for the California Angels
MLB statistics
Win–loss record229–172
Earned run average3.30
Career highlights and awards

Luis Clemente Tiant Vega (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈlwis ˈtjant]) (born November 23, 1940) is a former Major League Baseball (MLB) right-handed starting pitcher. He pitched in MLB for 19 years, primarily for the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox.

Tiant compiled a 229–172 record with 2416 strikeouts, a 3.30 ERA, 187 complete games, and 49 shutouts in ​348613 innings. He was an All-Star for three seasons and 20-game winner for four seasons. He was the American League (AL) ERA leader in 1968 and 1972. He also was the AL leader in strikeouts for 9-innings in 1967 and the AL leader in shutouts in 1966, 1968, and 1974.

Tiant was considered for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum via voting of the Baseball Writers' Association of America from 1988 to 2002, and by era committees in 2011, 2014, and 2017, falling short of the required votes each time. He was inducted to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1997, the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame in 2002, the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 2009, and the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals in 2012.

Early years

Cuba and Mexico

Tiant is the only child of Luis Tiant Sr. and Isabel Vega. From 1926 through 1948, the senior Tiant was a great left-handed pitcher for the Negro League's New York Cubans during the summer and the Cuban professional league's Cienfuegos in the winter, his heroics being followed by hundreds of thousands of Cubans. Luis, Jr. followed in his father's footsteps at an early age, joining both the local Little and Juvenile baseball leagues until he starred for the Havana team and was picked up for the Cuban Juvenile League All-Star team in 1957.

His talent was recognized by former Cleveland Indians All-Star, Bobby Ávila, who was scouting for talent in Cuba. Avila recommended him to the Mexico City Tigers of the Mexican League. Tiant was signed for $150 a month, and for the next three years he divided his time between the Tigers and the Havana Sugar Kings in the International League.

Cleveland Indians system

At the end of the summer of 1961, and under Avila's recommendation, Cleveland purchased Tiant's contract for $35,000. But with the rise of Fidel Castro's regime in his native Cuba—specifically, after heightened tensions following the US-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion in April of that year—it was impossible for Tiant to return home. He would not see his parents for 14 years.

Tiant progressed through the Indians' farm system beginning in 1962 with Charleston of the Eastern League, then on to Burlington, N.C., where he was one of the best pitchers in the Carolina League in 1963 and Portland, Oregon, in 1964. Tiant recalled that at Charleston, "I couldn't speak very good English but I understand racism. They treated me like a dog, but when I got to Portland, I didn't have any problems " (Oregonian, September 6, 2010). After a 15–1 record at Triple-A Portland which included a no-hitter and a one-hitter in consecutive starts, Tiant was called up by the Indians.

MLB career

Cleveland Indians

Tiant in April 1965

On July 19, 1964, Tiant debuted in the major leagues for the Cleveland Indians with a four-single, 11 strikeout, 3–0 shutout victory against the defending AL Champion New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The losing pitcher was Whitey Ford. Tiant finished his rookie season with a 10–4 record, 105 strikeouts, and a 2.83 ERA in 19 games.

Tiant broke through in 1968, after he altered his delivery so that he turned away from home plate during his motion, in effect creating a hesitation pitch. According to Tiant, the new motion was a response to a drop in his velocity due to a shoulder blade injury.[1] Twisting and turning his body into unthinkable positions, Tiant would spend more time looking at second base than he did the plate as he prepared to throw. In that season, he led the league in ERA (1.60), shutouts (nine, including four consecutive), hits per nine innings (a still-standing franchise record 5.30, which broke Herb Score's 5.85 in 1956 and would be a Major-League record low until Nolan Ryan gave up 5.26 hits/9 innings in 1972), strikeouts per nine innings (9.22), while finishing with a 21–9 mark. His four consecutive shutouts are matched by only four other pitchers in the 50-year expansion era, with Don Drysdale (six, 1968), Bob Gibson (five, 1968), Orel Hershiser (five, 1988) and Gaylord Perry (four, 1970) being the others. Beside this, opposing hitters batted just .168 off Tiant, a major league record, and on July 3 he struck out 19 Minnesota Twins in a ten-inning game, setting an American League record for games of that length. His 1.60 ERA in 1968 was the lowest in the American League since Walter Johnson's 1.49 mark during the dead-ball era in 1919, and was eclipsed that season only by National Leaguer (St. Louis Cardinals) Bob Gibson's 1.12—the lowest ever during the live-ball era. With Sam McDowell, Sonny Siebert, and others, the Indians staff led the AL in strikeouts for five consecutive years, including a record 1189 strikeouts in 1967, a record that would stand for thirty years.

Minnesota Twins

After an injury-plagued season in 1969, Tiant was traded to the Minnesota Twins in a multi-player deal that brought fellow pitcher Dean Chance and third baseman Graig Nettles to the Indians. With Minnesota, Tiant began 1970 with six wins, but then he fractured his right scapula, essentially ending his season and, some felt, his career. He showed some promise in the 1971 spring training, but he was released.

Boston Red Sox

Tiant outside Fenway Park, 1970s

The Braves signed him to a minor league contract to play with their Triple-A Richmond, where he pitched well, and was acquired by the Louisville Colonels, a farm team of the Boston Red Sox.

He was quickly called back up to the majors, and despite struggling through 1971 with a 1–7 record and 4.88 ERA, he would soon become one of the greatest and most beloved pitchers in Red Sox history and an idol in Boston. Becoming known as El Tiante at Fenway Park, in 1972 Tiant regained his old form with a 15–6 record and led the league with a 1.91 ERA. He would win 20 games in 1973 and 22 in 1974.

Though hampered by back problems in 1975, he won 18 games for the American League Champion Red Sox, then excelled for Boston in the postseason. In the playoffs he defeated the three time defending World Champion Oakland Athletics, allowing only three hits in a 7–1 complete game victory, then opened the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. His father and mother, having been allowed to visit from Cuba under a special visa, were in Fenway Park that game to watch their son defeat The Big Red Machine in a 6–0 five-hit shutout. This was one of the few times when the Reds were shut out in 1975, making Tiant's victory even more special. All six Red Sox runs were scored in the seventh inning; Tiant led off that inning (the designated hitter was not yet in use in World Series play) with a base hit off Don Gullett and eventually scored on Carl Yastrzemski's single for the first of those six runs.

Tiant won Game 4 as well (throwing 173 pitches in his second complete game in the series) and had a no-decision in Game 6, which has been called the greatest game ever played, after Carlton Fisk's dramatic game-winning walk-off home run in the 12th inning.

Tiant went 21–12 in 1976, 12–8 in 1977, and 13–8 in 1978.

New York Yankees

At the end of the 1978 season, Tiant signed as a free agent with the Yankees.[2] Tiant compiled a 21–17 record in New York over two seasons from 1979-80. Just after signing with the Yankees, Tiant did a television commercial for Colonial Brand Yankee Franks. The commercial ended with Tiant, in his thick Cuban accent saying, "It's great to be with a wiener (winner)." It was never made completely clear if he meant "wiener" or "winner".[3]

Pittsburgh Pirates and California Angels

Tiant finished his career with brief stints for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1981 (9 games, 2–5, 3.92 ERA) and the California Angels in 1982 (6 games, 2–2, 5.76 ERA). While with the Pirates organization in 1981, he appeared in 21 games (all starts) for the Triple-A Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League, pitching to a 13–7 record with 3.82 ERA.

Other leagues

Tiant competed in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League in parts of seven seasons spanning 1963–1982, while compiling a record of 37–24 including 29 complete games, a 2.27 ERA,[4] and a no-hitter in 1971.[5] He was a member of the champion Leones del Caracas teams of 1966–67 and 1967–68.[4] He gained induction into the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 2009.[6]

Tiant competed in the Senior Professional Baseball Association in 1989, initially signing with the Winter Haven Super Sox.[7] He was subsequently traded to the Gold Coast Suns, in exchange for outfielder Ralph Garr and 500 Teddy Ruxpin toy bears (for use as a fan giveaway item).[7] Tiant had an 0–1 record with 5.00 ERA for the Suns.[7]

Post-playing days

Tiant aboard the USS Albany, June 2007

Tiant was a minor league pitching coach in the Los Angeles Dodgers' farm system from 1992 to 1995, and in the Chicago White Sox' farm system in 1997.[8] During the 1996 Summer Olympics, he was the pitching coach for the Nicaraguan team.[8]

Tiant served as the head coach for the baseball team at the Savannah College of Art and Design, an NCAA Division III program, from 1998 to 2001,[8] where he posted a record of 55–97 for a .366 winning percentage.

In 2002, Tiant was the pitching coach for Boston's Class A Short Season affiliate, the Lowell Spinners, and he has continued to serve as a special assignment instructor for Boston.[8]

Tiant, along with former batterymate Carlton Fisk, threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the decisive Game 6 of the 2013 World Series at Fenway Park.[9]

Hall of Fame consideration

Tiant was on the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum ballot from 1988 to 2002, but never received more than the 30.9% of the votes he received in his first ballot year. According to election rules at the time, players were permitted on the ballot for a maximum of 15 years. He was selected for consideration on the Golden Era Committee ballots for 2012 and 2015,[10] and by the Modern Era Baseball Committee for 2018,[11] but again was not elected. Tiant's career statistics are quite similar to Catfish Hunter, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987—it has been noted that Tiant, who retired three years after Hunter, faced stronger competition on the Hall of Fame ballot.[12] Tiant has stated that he does not want his family to attend the induction ceremony if he is voted in posthumously.[13]

Tiant was inducted to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame on September 8, 1997,[14] and was also inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame,[15] and the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Tiant was inducted into the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals in 2012.[16]

Personal life

Tiant and his wife, Maria, have three children: Luis Jr., Isabel, and Daniel.[8] Since 2002, Tiant has been a resident of Southborough, Massachusetts.[17]

An avid cigar smoker, Tiant launched a line of cigars that he formulated and designed, branding them with his nickname, El Tiante.[18]

Tiant has authored two autobiographies:

  • El Tiante, the Luis Tiant story, written with Joe Fitzgerald, released in 1976[19]
  • Son of Havana: A Baseball Journey from Cuba to the Big Leagues and Back, written with Saul Wisnia, released in May 2019[20]

In popular culture

Tiant was mentioned in the 1977 film The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, as his unique pitching motion was imitated by Carmen Ronzonni (Jimmy Baio).

Tiant appeared in an episode of Cheers, "Now Pitching, Sam Malone", which first aired on January 6, 1983. Sam Malone, a former relief pitcher, agrees to do TV commercials; in the first one, he co-stars with and "relieves" Tiant when the latter begins to fail in the commercial.

Tiant is the subject of the documentary film The Lost Son of Havana, produced by Kris Meyer and the Farrelly brothers, and directed by Jonathan Hock. It had its world premiere on April 23, 2009, at the Tribeca Film Festival, and was promptly acquired by ESPN Films.

See also


  1. ^ Cigar Insider: Luis Tiant of El Tiante Cigars
  2. ^ "Old foe Luis Tiant latest free agent signed by Yankees". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. AP. 14 November 1978. p. 25. Retrieved 30 May 2010.
  3. ^ "Sadly, this is what I think of when I see Luis Tiant". The Shlabotnik Report. June 29, 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Luis Clemente Tiant Vega". Archived from the original on April 22, 2016. Retrieved July 31, 2019 – via Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Gutiérrez, Daniel; González, Javier (2006); Records de la Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional. LVBP. ISBN 978-980-6996-01-4
  6. ^ Salón de la Fama y Museo del Béisbol Venezolano Archived 2013-12-31 at the Wayback Machine (Spanish)
  7. ^ a b c Clair, Michael (July 30, 2019). "An all-time great pitcher once got traded for 500 teddy bears". Retrieved July 31, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Boston Red Sox Media Guide" (PDF). 2019. p. 444. Retrieved April 29, 2019 – via
  9. ^ Calcaterra, Craig (October 30, 2013). "Carlton Fisk, Luis Tiant to throw out the first pitch for Game 6". NBC Sports. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  10. ^ Abraham, Peter (December 9, 2014). "Tiant again denied a spot in the Hall". The Boston Globe. p. D2. Retrieved May 22, 2019 – via
  11. ^ "Former Tigers Morris, Trammell elected to Hall of Fame". Reuters. December 10, 2017. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  12. ^ Posnanski, Joe (November 26, 2017). "Tiant's candidacy obscured by 300-win arms". Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  13. ^ "Former Red Sox Pitcher Luis Tiant Has Strong Words About Hall Of Fame". NESN. May 22, 2015. Retrieved May 22, 2019 – via YouTube.
  14. ^ "The Red Sox Hall of Fame". Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  15. ^ "Hall of Fame". Archived from the original on January 6, 2016. Retrieved May 22, 2019 – via Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ "Shrine of the Eternals – Inductees". Baseball Reliquary. Retrieved 2019-08-14.
  17. ^ Stanelun, Michaela (April 28, 2008). "Luis Tiant, Red Sox pitching legend, stops at Weymouth smoke shop with El Tiante cigars". The Patriot Ledger. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  18. ^ Nagy, Andrew (October 20, 2011). "El Tiante Cigars Return as a "Pepin" Garcia Blend". Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  19. ^ Tiant, Luis; Fitzgerald, Joe (1976). "El Tiante, the Luis Tiant story". Doubleday. ISBN 0385121164. Retrieved May 22, 2019.
  20. ^ "'Son Of Havana' Luis Tiant On His Story On And Off The Field". WGBH-TV. May 16, 2019. Retrieved May 21, 2019.

Further reading

External links

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