Tiant at the 2009 premiere of Lost Son of Havana
November 23, 1940 |
|July 19, 1964 for the Cleveland Indians|
Last MLB appearance
|September 4, 1982 for the California Angels|
|Earned run average||3.30|
Career highlights and awards
Luis Clemente Tiant Vega (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈlwis ˈtjant]), born November 23, 1940 in Marianao, Cuba, (then part of Havana Province), is a former professional baseball player. He was a right-handed starting pitcher in Major League Baseball, primarily with the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox.
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 Avila, 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 recommendations, 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 the 1962 season with Charleston of the Eastern League and then on to Burlington, N.C., where he was one of the best pitchers in the Carolina League in 1963 and Portland, Ore., 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 recalled by the Indians. On July 19, 1964, Tiant debuted with Cleveland 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 the 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 an shoulder blade injury. 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 (9, including 4 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, more than a batter an inning), 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 5 consecutive years, including a record 1189 strikeouts in 1967, a record that would stand for 30 years.
After an injury-plagued season in 1969, Tiant was traded to the 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
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 a great idol in Boston. Starting to be 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 and 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. 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.
New York Yankees
At the end of the 1978 season, Tiant signed as a free agent with the Yankees. 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".
He also excelled in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League in parts of five seasons spanning 1966–1982, while collecting 37 victories, 29 complete games, a 2.27 ERA, and a no-hitter in 1971. He gained induction into the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 2009.
He finished his career after two brief stints for the Pirates and Angels.
Tiant appeared in an episode of Cheers, "Now Pitching, Sam Malone" (first aired January 6, 1983). Sam Malone (a former relief pitcher) agrees to do TV commercials, and, in the first, he co-stars with and "relieves" Luis Tiant when the latter begins to fail in the commercial.
In his 19-season career, Tiant compiled a 229–172 record with 2416 strikeouts, a 3.30 ERA, 187 complete games, and 49 shutouts in 3,486.1 innings. He was inducted to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1997.
Tiant served as the head coach for the baseball team at the Savannah College of Art and Design from 1998 to 2001 where he posted a record of 55–97 with a .366 winning percentage
Tiant was on the Baseball Hall of Fame 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, players are only permitted on the ballot for 15 years, and Tiant has not been considered since. He was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame on July 23, 2002, in a pregame on-field ceremony at Fenway Park.
Well known for his great pitching, unique delivery, charisma, and as an avid cigar smoker, he launched a line of cigars that he formulated and designed, branding them with his nickname, El Tiante.
As of 2007, Luis Tiant resides in Southborough, Massachusetts, USA. He also works for the Red Sox as a pitching advisor.
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 at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, and was promptly acquired by ESPN Films.
A grassroots effort to get Tiant inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame has been started on the social media site Facebook. Tiant, along with former battery mate Carlton Fisk threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park before the decisive Game 6 of the 2013 World Series on October 30, 2013.
References in popular culture
- Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame
- List of players from Cuba in Major League Baseball
- List of Major League Baseball leaders in career wins
- List of Major League Baseball ERA champions
- Top 100 strikeout pitchers of all time
- Cigar Insider: Luis Tiant of El Tiante Cigars
- "Old foe Luis Tiant latest free agent signed by Yankees". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. AP. 14 November 1978. p. 25. Retrieved 30 May 2010.
- Gutiérrez, Daniel; González, Javier (2006); Records de la Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional. LVBP. ISBN 978-980-6996-01-4
- Salón de la Fama y Museo del Béisbol Venezolano (Spanish)
- Let's get Luis Tiant into the Hall of Fame now!
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- Baseball Hall of Fame: Tiant Delivered Over Brilliant Career
- 2007 Hall of Fame candidate profile at the Wayback Machine (archived April 23, 2007)
- Red Sox' All-Time Team
- The Baseball Page
- Baseball Library
- Latino Legends in Sports
- Interview with Luis Tiant about cigars and baseball
- Venezuelan Professional Baseball League career statistics