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: ['lwis 'tjant]) (born November 23, 1940) is a former Major League Baseball (MLB) right-handed starting pitcher. He pitched 19 years primarily for the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox. He became a member of the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1997.
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 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, 68, and 74.
In 2014, Tiant appeared for the second time as a candidate on the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Golden Era Committee election ballot for possible Hall of Fame consideration for 2015 which required 12 votes. Tiant and the other candidates including two other former players from Cuba, Minnie Miñoso and Tony Oliva, all missed getting elected with three votes or less. The Committee meets and votes on ten selected candidates from the 1947 to 1972 era every three years.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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 with 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.
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 for 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 were then permitted on the ballot for 15 years. He was selected for the new Golden Era Committee ballot in 2011 and 2014, but failed to get enough votes from the Committee to be elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012 and 2015. The Golden Era covers the 1947 to 72 years in baseball and the committee meets and votes for ten candidates selected by the historical committee of the Baseball Writers' Association of America every three years.
Well known for his 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. 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.
He appears in a beer commercial in the episode "Now Pitching, Sam Malone" from the first season of Cheers.