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The Legend of El Tiante

Luis Tiant's reputation lives on in New England, where he is forever linked to the 1975 Boston Red Sox, one of the best teams in the franchise's frustrating twentieth-century history
Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Entourage, July/August 2009

(continued from page 2)

"You know for me, a cigar is relaxing. I like to sit out on the porch by the pool, with a drink, you know, a Cognac, a Port. You feel like a million dollars," says Tiant. He adds that he likes to make sure people understand what it is about a cigar that makes him feel that way. "When you talk to them about making a cigar, what goes into it, how it burns, how it feels—when they learn about those things, they enjoy it more."

He laughs when asked why he hadn't created a cigar before, particularly during the time when it was his signature. "All those years I played, with the mustache and the cigar. That was my reputation. No one ever came to me. No one ever called me about doing a cigar. So, seven years ago, I just decided to do it myself."

If there is one other thing that Tiant could do for himself, it would be to get to the front of the line with the Veteran's Committee at the Baseball Hall of Fame. In the 2009 balloting, he received only 13 of the 48 votes he needed for election. During the years in which he was eligible for regular Hall of Fame balloting, Tiant never came close. His most successful tally came in 2000, when he picked up 86 votes. But that represented only 17 percent of the electorate, and he needed 75 percent, or 375 votes, to gain entry.

"It's been 21 years, so I don't think about it a lot," he says, but his nod of the head reveals some frustration. "If I thought about it every day, I'd be crazy by now. I mean, look, it took them 15 years to put Jim Rice in. They should have let him in the first year. If you've got the numbers, you should be in the Hall of Fame."

It doesn't take a long analysis of the statistics to see that the Hall of Fame entry isn't based strictly on the numbers. Among Tiant's contemporaries are some pitchers whose election was indisputable: Nolan Ryan, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Don Sutton are notables on that list, all with 300 wins plus and various outstanding statistics. But get into the next tier of pitchers who are already Hall of Famers, and distinguishing their achievements from Tiant's is harder to do. Take Jim Bunning; Tiant has more wins, fewer losses and a nearly identical lifetime ERA. Or Catfish Hunter; Tiant has more wins and more strikeouts. He's got more wins than Don Drysdale, more strikeouts than Whitey Ford and fewer losses than Bob Gibson. He had four seasons with 20-plus wins, had the lowest ERA in the major leagues for a season twice, pitched nine shutouts in 1968, and once pitched 52 consecutive shutout innings. In his career, he had 49 shutouts, and 187 complete games.

But he might be best remembered, at least among Red Sox fans, for his performance in the 1975 World Series. He started three games. He pitched a 6-0 shutout in Game One, helping his cause with a lead-off hit in the seventh inning, the frame in which all six Red Sox runs were scored. He went on to win Game 4, his second complete game in the Series. Then he recorded a no-decision in Game 6, which was won when Carlton Fisk connected in the 12th inning and then seemed to will the ball fair as he waved on his way down the base path.

That landmark game, however, doesn't even stand out in Tiant's five greatest moments in his baseball career. Although he listed them in order, he admits he would be hard-pressed to name one above all the rest. The first was that first Major League game, where he blanked the Yankees. "I had 11 strikeouts," he says, "a record for a rookie.

"The second was my 52 shutout innings in a row. Third, is my two consecutive game record of 32 strikeouts. Fourth, is my 19 strikeouts in a 10-inning game; I'm the only one to ever do that. And the fifth is the 1975 World Series, especially the first game with my mom and dad in the stands who got the special visa to attend."

Without skipping a beat, after running down his top-five moments in the Majors, he says he's "not missing any sleep" over the Hall of Fame. "I want to be in it, for sure. I've got the numbers. It shouldn't be because you're a nice guy, but because you've got the numbers.

"I've never been in jail. I'm not an alcoholic. I've never taken drugs. I don't beat my wife. I don't understand it. So, hopefully, they won't wait until I die. If they do, I'll come right out of my grave," he says.

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