Luis Clementa Tiant Vega was born on November 23, 1940 in Mariano, Cuba. Luis's father, Luis Tiant Sr. starred in the negro leagues in the 30's and 40's as an ace pitcher and won the Negro League World Series with the New York Cubans in 1947. Needless to say, Luis Tiant would have a lot to live up to.
Tiant tried out for a spot with the Havana team in th einternational Leadue, but failed to make the team. Luis would not get discouraged and in 1959 he was signed by Bobby Avila to play in the Mexican leagues, for the Mexico City Tigers. It was south of the border that he got noticed by the Cleveland Indians. Also in 1961, Luis would marry a girl he met in Mexico City named Maria. At the close of the season the two were planning on returning to Cuba, but the political situation there was not ideal. Fidel Castro no longer allowed people to leave the country, so Luis and Maria did not return. Luis would not see his parents for 14 years.
Luis played in the minors for Charleston in the Eastern League and had an average year, going 7-8 with an ERA of 3.63. The following season Tiant was moved up to Burlington, where he was the best pitcher in the Carolina League, finishing with a record of 14-9 and an ERA of 2.56 and leading the league in complete games, strikeouts and shutouts. The following winter Luis Tiant Jr. was available for the Major League draft, but no team wanted to risk the $12,00 it would have taken to claim him. In the beginning of the 1964 season, Tiant found himself still in Burlington, but an injury to a pitcher on the Indians's Triple A club in Portlan, OR caused Tiant to be sent out west, one step away from the Major Leagues.
In Portland, Tiant would not see much pitching time early on in the season, due to Sam McDowell, who was the current ace of the Triple A club, whereas not much was expected out of Tiant. Tiant would pitch well whenever he played, but it was McDowell that caught everyone's attention. He went 8-0 with an ERA of 1.18 and 102 strikeouts in only 76 innings before being called up on May 30th. In the absence of this star, Tiant would shine. Already at 7-0 with a 2.25 ERA, Tiant would spueeze a win out against the Triple A San Diego Padres, led by Tony Perez. It was this win against the Padres that got the attention of Portland GM Dave Steele, and on July 17, 1964, Tiant would be called up to the Major Leagues. Tiant would make his Major League Debut a day later pitching against the New York Yankees and ace pitcher Whitey Ford. Tiant would throw a 4-hit shut out with 11 strikeouts. Tiant would finish 10-4 for the tribe with an ERA of 2.83, making his totals for that season 25-5 with an 2.42 ERA.
Led majors in ERA and shutouts in the 1968 season. Set a major league record by striking out 32 batters in consecutive games, which was matched by Nolan Ryan in 74, Doc Gooden in 84 and Randy Johnson in 1997 before Kerry wood broke it in 1998. Tiant would be chosen to pitch at the All-Star game for the first time this year. Batters hit a pathetic .168 off of Tiant's pitching. Tiant pitched a Cy Young worthy season, but was beat out by Detroit Tiger Denny McLain, who won 31 games for his team that year. Not only that, Tiant had his second streak of 40+ shutout innings, a feat only accomplished by Tiant and by Walter Johnson.
Tiant would be traded to the Minnesota Twins as part of a 6 man deal in 1969 that brought Greg Nettles and Dean Chance to the Indians. Tiant slumped throughout his only season as a Twin, which was cut short due to a fractured shoulder blade. Tiant ended the season with 7 wins in 18 games. In spring training in the next year, management saw little promise and Tiant was picked up by the Atlanta Braves, but only played in their minor leagues. The Braves would shortly come to give up on what would become an ace pitcher, again.
The Boston Red Sox signed him from the minor leagues in 1971. Tiant began the year as a starter, but would go 0-6 and would not be in the starting rotation come August. Out of the bullpen Tiant went 1-1 with an ERA of 1.80, however many were surprised that the Red Sox kept Tiant on the 40 man roster come the summer. On March 22, 1972 the Red Sox made what many would consider a really poor trade when they traded Sparky Lyle to the Yankees for Danny Cater. This trade would have a hidden blessing as Tiant would get Lyle's starting spot in the rotation. Manager Eddie Kasko had saw Tiant's work out of the bullpen and knew that Tiant still had it in him, as he would show the world in 1972.
In 72, Tiant would be used as a utility pitcher, called in for a save, a long relief in the middle of the game or the occasional start. As Tiant started well, the Red Sox did not, their two aces, Sonny Siebert and Ray Culp were slumping, and the Red Sox would not appear to be a contender until rookie pitchers John Curtis and Lynn McGlothen would start pitching. The Red Sox climbed in the standings until they 5 games out of first place in the beginning of August. The Red Sox pennant drive was led by two players that not many people had considered a large part of the teams plan at the time, rookie catcher Carlton Fisk and Luis Tiant.
Due to an illness to Siebert, Tiant took his place in the starting rotation against the Baltimore Orioles and got the win. A week later, Tiant faced the Orioles again and threw 6 innings of no-hit ball and closed the game out as a three-hitter. He wouldn't start again until August 19, where the through 8 innings of perfect pitching, and settled for a two hitter. After this game, Kasko announced that Tiant was in the rotation to stay. That game also marked a streak of 10 games where Luis would go 9-1 with 6 shutouts and an era of 0.96, with all nine games being complete games! Luis Tiant had won the hearts of the Fenway Faithful. He won the Comeback player of the year for 72 as "El Tiante" led majors with a 1.91 era.
In 1975, the Red Sox would have a great season, but Tiant struggled for most of the summer. Many began to view him as an aging pitcher who now started in the back of the rotation. Some speculate that after 14 years, Tiant just wanted to see his family again. During a trip to Cuba, Senator George McGovern handed a letter from Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke making a plea to Fidel to allow Luis Tiant's parents to travel to Boston and see him play ball. The following day, Castro approved them to visit for "as long as they wanted," and three and a half months later in late August, Luis Tiant would have a tearful reunion with his parents. On August 26, 1975 Luis's parents were announced to the crowd and Luis Sr. threw out the first pitch. Tiant would unfortunately get hit hard in that game and in his next start. Many commented how his parents should have come a year earlier when he was still good. Tiant would take 10 days off to rest his back.
On September 11, 1975 Tiant would get another chance from manager Darrell Johnson. Tiant again showed that he still had it by throwing 7 and 2/3 innings of no hit ball before giving up a run and three hits. Tiant would go on to pitch 2 shutouts and by the end of the season, the Red Sox won the pennant by four and a half games. Once at the back of the rotation, Tiant would start against the three time defending world champion Oakland Athletics. Tiant would make the A's look silly as he pitched a three hit shut out to ignite a sweep. Tiant would go on to throw a 5-hit shutout in game 1 of the World Series against the Cinncinatti Reds. In game 4 Tiant would work himself out of jams almost every inning, throwing 163 pitches. The Bosox would squeeze out a 5-4 win that game. Tiant would also start game 6 of the series, but couldn't hold onto a 3-0 lead and was pulled when the Red Sox fell down to 6-3. Bernie Carbo and Carlton Fisk would bail the Red Sox out of this jam with two legendary home runs. In what might have been one of their best recent chances to do so, the Sox could not pull it together and lost game 7, and the World Series.
In the off season following 1978, Red Sox management decided to let Bill Lee and Luis Tiant go. Tiant would do what far too many Red Sox players have done and signed with the Devil's Bitches. The move devastated Dwight Evans, who, after he heard the news, called the management "ignorant," claiming that they had no idea what Tiant meant for the clubhouse. Carl Yastrzemski was also hurt by the news saying "They tore out our heart and soul."
Luis pitched well in his first year in his new home, but would only pitch average in the 1980 season, going 8-9. After the 1980 season, the Yankees decided they had enough and released Tiant, who would be picked up by the Pittsburg Pirates. Tiant would spend most of the season playing Minor League ball in Portland again, where he pitched well, but struggled when the Pirates called him up. Pittsburg released him and Tiant foudn himself picked up by the California Angels. He finished his career with the Angels, pitching in only six games, and getting a win in his final game, which was played against his former team the Boston Red Sox.
El Tiante's career was one of highs and lows, but whenever he was needed to, or called upon, he always pitched his best. In 1997 Luis Tiant Jr. wasinducted into Red Sox Hall Of Fame in 1997. Later, in 2002 he would rejoin the Red Sox organization by becoming the pitching coach for the Single A Lowell Spinners. Tiant was always known for, and sometimes critized of, his odd twisting corkscrew-esque windup that could not be duplicated.
Season Team G GS CG Sho IP H ER HR BB SO W L SV ERA
1964 Cle 19 16 9 3 127.0 94 40 13 47 105 10 4 1 2.83
1965 Cle 41 30 10 2 196.1 166 77 20 66 152 11 11 1 3.53
1966 Cle 46 16 7 5 155.0 121 48 16 50 145 12 11 8 2.79
1967 Cle 33 29 9 1 213.2 177 65 24 67 219 12 9 2 3.26
1968 Cle 34 32 19 9 258.1 152 46 16 73 264 21 9 0 1.60
1969 Cle 38 37 9 1 249.2 229 103 37 129 126 9 20 0 3.71
1970 Min 18 17 2 1 92.2 84 35 12 41 50 7 3 0 3.40
1971 Bos 21 10 1 0 72.1 73 39 8 32 59 1 7 0 4.85
1972 Bos 43 19 12 6 179.0 128 38 7 65 123 15 6 3 1.91
1973 Bos 35 35 23 0 272.0 217 101 32 78 206 20 13 0 3.34
1974 Bos 38 38 25 7 311.1 281 101 21 81 176 22 13 0 2.92
1975 Bos 35 35 18 2 260.0 262 116 25 72 142 18 14 0 4.02
1976 Bos 38 38 19 3 279.0 274 95 25 64 131 21 12 0 3.06
1977 Bos 32 32 3 3 188.2 210 95 26 51 124 12 8 0 4.53
1978 Bos 32 31 12 5 212.1 185 75 26 57 114 13 8 0 3.31
1979 NYY 30 30 5 1 195.2 190 85 22 53 104 13 8 0 3.91
1980 NYY 25 25 3 0 136.1 139 74 10 50 84 8 9 0 4.89
1981 Pit 9 9 1 0 57.3 54 25 3 19 32 2 5 0 3.92
1982 Cal 6 5 0 0 29.7 39 19 3 8 30 2 2 0 5.76
Career Totals: G GS CG Sho IP H ER HR BB SO W L SV ERA
576 484 187 49 3486.1 3075 1280 346 1104 2416 229 172 15 3.30