Friday, May 25, 2012

#178 Luis Tiant - California Angels

Luis Tiant is shown here on his 18th and final Topps card.  His rookie card was issued way back in 1965  (Tiant did not have a card in the '72 set).   By the time this card came out, he had already retired.   
I am pretty sure this picture was taken at Tiger Stadium during the Angels trip to Detroit in late August.
Player: Luis Tiant began playing pro ball in Mexico as an 18 year old in 1959.  The young Cuban played in Mexico City through the end of the '61 season when his contract was sold to the Cleveland Indians.  After winning fifteen games with a 2.04 ERA at AAA Portland, he was called up in July of 1964.  With the big club Tiant went 10-4 with a 2.83 ERA (128 ERA+) in 127 innings.  The 23 year-old won 25 games between his two stops and the future looked bright. 

Tiant started his second year in the pen, battled a sore arm, and joined the rotation in June.  He posted a league average ERA with an 11-11 record.  Tiant lost some weight and bounced back winning 12 games each of the next two seasons with ERAs of 2.79 and 2.74.  Although he started only 16 of his 46 games in '66 he still managed to lead the AL with five shutouts.

In the pitcher friendly year of '68 Tiant was dominant by any standards.  He topped the AL with a 1.60 ERA (186 ERA+), 5.3 hits/9, and nine shutouts and won 21 games for a middle of the road Cleveland team.  His fortunes turned for the worse in '69 and he led the league in the losses (20), HR allowed (39) and walks (129).  Despite all this, his 101 ERA+ indicates he really was pretty much league average.  The last place Indians decided to shake things up and swapped Tiant in a six player deal to the Twins

Now with the Twins, Tiant got off to a 6-0 start but was sidelined for two months with a crack in his shoulder blade.  He came back in August and finished the 1970 season 7-3 in 92 innings.  After pulling a muscle in spring training the following year the Twins released him. 

Tiant signed with Atlanta who were only willing to give him a brief look before releasing him. Picked up by Boston, Tiant pitched briefly at AAA before he was called up in June '71.  He made a few starts and pitched in long relief but struggled with a 4.85 ERA and 1.452 WHIP.

The charismatic, cigar puffing, Cuban began the year in the pen and continued to make a few starts across the schedule.  Tiant caught fire and stayed in the rotation over the last two months and completed 11 of his last 13 starts with an 11-2 record and 1.20 ERA as Boston made an unsuccessful push for the AL East lead.  Tiant led the league with a sparkling 1.91 ERA while pitching 179 innings.

Over the next six years Tiant would be a mainstay in the Red Sox rotation and was a Fenway favorite, often serenaded to chants of Loo-eey, Loo-eey, Loo-eey.  Over the '73 - '76 seasons Tiant averaged 20 wins, 281 innings, with a 3.31 ERA and accumulated 20.7 WAR.  Tiant and the Red Sox came up short in the heartbreaking '75 World Series (more on that in the next post).

Tiant had an off year in '77 with a 4.53 ERA but rebounded in '78 with a solid 3.31 and 13 wins. He came through late in the year starting on three days rest most of September as the Sox chased the Yankees. He pitched two hit shutout over Toronto to force the Bucky Dent game #163.

Boston was unwilling to give Tiant more than a one year deal and he signed a two year contract with the Yankees who also added a ten year deal as a scout when he finished playing. He had a decent year in '79 with a 3.91 ERA in 195 innings but fell apart in '80 with a 4.89 ERA in just 136 frames.

The 40 year old Tiant was not ready to hang it up and signed with the Pirates but spent most of the year at AAA.  He was called up for nine starts at the end of the '81 season. He went 2-5 with a 3.92 ERA but was released at the end of the year.  Tiant started the '82 season back in Mexico pitching for Tabasco (it's more than a sauce), before his contract was purchased by the Angels for the stretch drive.  He made a couple of good starts but was otherwise ineffective and had a 5.76 ERA in 29.2 innings.  Tiant retired with a career mark of 229-172 and a 3.30 ERA (114 ERA+). 

Stuff:  In his heyday Tiant had a power fastball, and even in his early years he threw a great variety of pitches from all arm slots.  In addition to his four-seam fastball he also had a curve, slow curve, slider, palmball, knuckleball, and change up.  A brief example of his exaggerated pitching motion can be seen here.
Flipside:  Wow, those are some tiny, tiny stats.  Looking at his career, his down years from '69-'71 might have cost him a shot at the Hall of Fame.  He only had a total of 17 wins those three years and had double digits every other year from '64 - '80.  Had he averaged 15 wins those years he would have finished with 28 more wins giving him 257 career.  While that total wouldn't have guaranteed him a spot in Cooperstown, it may have gotten him a few more votes.  

Another thing that may have cost Tiant a few W's is that Cleveland was stocked with a bevy of young arms in the early to mid 60's and he could have been called up earlier than 1964.  In his '63 and '64 minor league campaigns he went 29-19 with a 2.61 ERA.  At the time the Indians had Tommy John and Sam McDowell who were nearing drinking age but had debuted in '63  They also young veterans Gary Bell, Mudcat Grant, Jim Perry, and Pedro Ramos.  Tiant's success in the minors may have just been overlooked due to the glut of arms the Indians had at the time. 

As far as the HOF voting, Tiant received 30.9% of the vote in his first year of eligibility in '88 but lost support and was dropped from the ballot in 2002.  

Oddball:  How many players play for the same minor league team 17 years apart?  If you don't include established big leaguers on rehab assignments, probably not too many.  Tiant pitched for AAA Portland in '64 when they were the Tribe's top farm team.  When he signed with Pittsburgh in '81, Portland was now affiliated with the Pirates.  Perhaps returning to his old stomping grounds rejuvenated Tiant  as he came within one out of pitching back-to-back no hitters.

History:  Tiant was a very popular pitcher especially when he was with the Red Sox.  After his playing days he scouted for the Yankees in Mexico.  He later managed Savannah College of Art and Design for four years. 
A documentary of Tiant's return to Cuba, "The Lost Son of Havana" was released in 2009. The SABR bio on Tiant, is a good read and was a great source for much of info read here.
My next post will cover Tiant's Super Veteran card.


  1. Your "here" link doesn't work.

  2. Thanks Al, should be ok now.

  3. dont forget he was in a cheers episode !!!