Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Who is El Tiante?

Luis Tiant. Born on November 23, 1940 in Cuba. His father was a terrific baseball player. A pitcher, in fact. Probably better than Luis. Luis came to the US and made his major league debut for the Cleveland Indians a couple months before I was born. July 19, 1964. Threw a complete game shutout against the Yankees. Struck out 11, gave up 4 hits, and got the win. That was the first time he’d ever been on a major league mound. At Yankee Stadium. He beat Whitey Ford 3-0. You can look it up.

Luis Tiant went on to win another 228 games in a career that lasted 19 years. He retired with a lifetime 229-172 record, and a lifetime ERA of 3.30. Struck out 2416, walked 1104 and allowed a little over 3000 hits in just a shade under 3500 innings. Led his league in ERA twice. Want to compare his numbers to someone? Try Catfish Hunter and Jim Bunning. Luis is right there. I’m of the belief that El Tiante should be in Cooperstown.

His single most dominant year was 1968 with the Indians, but after he hurt his arm and was thought to be washed up, the Red Sox picked him up for a song in 1971. Over the next 8 years, wearing #23, Luis Tiant became the darling of Red Sox fans everywhere. He won 20 or more games 3 times, and in the magical year of 1975, combined with Fred Lynn, Jim Rice and Carlton Fisk to lift the team on his shoulders and carry them to one of the most glorious season-long rides that Red Sox fans ever saw.

His numbers aren’t why I (and many others) love Luis Tiant, though. He had personality. He had flair. The Spanish term for what Luis Tiant brought to the mound is “duende”; a style, passion, authenticity and soul that can’t be quantified. His delivery was a twisting, syncopated, corkscrew motion that sometimes included a quick glance at the top of his windup toward to the heavens, perhaps to make sure God was watching what El Tiante was about to deliver to the hitter. More on his delivery in a minute. The press loved Tiant because he was eternally quotable before and after games. He was always seen with a thick Cuban cigar in his mouth. He was the clubhouse prankster, but nobody wanted to win more than El Tiante.

"If we lose today, it will be over my dead body. They'll have to leave me face down on the mound.” --Luis Tiant

"The fastball is the best pitch in baseball. It's like having five pitches, if you move it around." --Luis Tiant

The best quotes, though, were the ones said about him.

"If a man put a gun to my head and said I'm going to pull the trigger if you lose this game, I'd want Luis Tiant to pitch that game." - Red Sox Manager Darrell Johnson

"I've never heard anything like that ("Loo-Eee, Loo-Eee, Loo-Eee" chanting in Fenway Park) in my life. But I'll tell you one thing: Tiant deserved every bit of it."
--Carl Yastrzemski

"Unless you've played with him, you can't understand what Luis Tiant means to a team." - Teammate Dwight Evans

I saw Tiant pitch a bunch of times at Fenway, but in his book “Five Seasons”, the great sportswriter Roger Angell put into words better than I ever could what it was like to actually watch Luis Tiant on the mound:
1) Call the Osteopath: In midpitch the man suffers an agonizing seizure in the central cervical region, which he attempts to fight off with a sharp backward twist of the head.
2) Out of the Woodshed: Just before releasing the ball he steps over a raised sill and simultaneously ducks his head to avoid conking it on the low doorframe.
3) The Runaway Taxi: Before the pivot, he sees a vehicle bearing down on him at top speed, and pulls back his entire upper body just in time to avoid a nasty accident.
4) Falling Off the Fence: An attack of vertigo nearly causes him to topple over backward on the mound. Strongly suggests a careless dude on the top rung of the corral.
5) The Slipper-Kick: In midpitch, he surprisingly decides to get rid of his left shoe.
6) The Low-Flying Plane (a subtle development and amalgam of 1, 3, and 4. above): While he is pivoting, an F-I05 buzzes the ball park, passing over the infield from the third-base to the first-base side at a height of eight feet. He follows it all the way with his eyes.

So that’s a little bit about why this blog is named after the man. It’s not going to be completely about the Red Sox (though a lot of it will be). It will also be about the greater baseball world, and sports beyond (gasp!!) baseball.

I hope it’s fun!

1 comment:

Bill said...

And I just thought you liked to watch Sox games from Luis' El Tiante food stand at Fenway Park!