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Born: November 23, 1940; Mariano, Cuba Height: 6'0" Weight: 180
Luis Tiant made his debut with the Cleveland Indians in 1964, beating the Yankees. His father had starred in the Negro Leagues in the 1930's and 40's, winning the Negro League World Series with the New York Cubans in 1947.
Tiant pitched for the Indians through the 1969 season. He won 21 games in 1968, and led the American League with an amazing 1.60 ERA and 9 shutouts. He set a Major League record by striking out 32 batters over two consecutive games, a feat that was matched by Nolan Ryan in 1974, Dwight Gooden in 1984, and Randy Johnson in 1997, before being broken by Kerry Wood in 1998.
After finishing 9-20 in 1969, he was traded to Minnesota as part of a six-player deal. He was in the minors in 1971 when the Red Sox signed him.
"El Tiante" had an excellent year in 1972, posting a 15-6 record and a league-leading 1.91 ERA. He won the Comeback Player of the Year Award that season. 1972 was the beginning of an impressive run with Boston. From 1972-1978, he averaged 17 wins per season, and was named to the All-Star team twice. Chants of "Louie, Louie" greeted him at Fenway Park, as Red Sox fans were delighted by his unique windup, his dazzling pitching, and his charismatic smile.
Tiant pitched 116 complete games in his eight-year Red Sox career, including three outstanding postseason performances. He held the A's to three hits in a 7-1 win in the 1975 ALCS. In that year's World Series, he threw a shutout in Game 1 and tossed 163 pitches in Game 4 to get the 5-4 win. He even batted .250 in the Series.
His final game with the Sox was a complete-game, two-hit win over Toronto in the last game of the 1978 season, forcing a one-game playoff with New York.
In his eight seasons with the Red Sox, Tiant won 122 games, winning 20 or more three times. He finished his Boston career with a 3.36 ERA and ranks among the club leaders in several categories: innings pitched (3rd, 1774.0); games started (3rd, 238); wins (4th, 122); shutouts (4th, 26); and strikeouts (3rd, 1075).
Luis finished his career with two seasons in New York, followed by one each in Pittsburgh and California.
In 1997, Luis Tiant was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
After serving as a minor league pitching coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers and minor league instructor for the Chicago White Sox, Tiant was named the coach of Savannah College of Art and Design's baseball team in 1998.
Tiant rejoined the Red Sox organization when he was named pitching coach of the Single-A Lowell Spinners in 2002.
I met "El Tiante" on a recent trip to Cooperstown. Unlike many
former major leaguers who were charging for their autographs or pictures,
Tiant and a few others asked only that fans donate a few dollars
to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
By Guy Curtwright, Cox news service
SAVANNAH, GA. - At 58, Luis Tiant's trademark Fu Manchu mustache is full of gray, and his black pullover jersey strains to hold his ample belly. But he still can baffle hitters with his corkscrew delivery, the number on his back visible to the batter, as always, before every pitch.
Luckily for his Savannah College of Art and Design hitters, Tiant's right arm is tender, limiting him to rare batting-practice sessions.
''Last season, I throw all the time,'' said Tiant, who won 20 games four times in his 19-year major-league career and finished with 229 victories. ''This year, my arm is not so good.''
But that doesn't mean this hasn't been a special season for Tiant, in his second year as the unlikely coach of an unlikely college baseball team.
When Tiant can't throw batting practice, another Tiant does - older son Luis IV. At home games, a third Luis Tiant often attends. The littlest Louie is Tiant's 5-year-old grandson, Luis V.
''Family is everything,'' the elder Tiant said. ''It is even more important than baseball.''
It was baseball that took Tiant - the winningest major-league pitcher from Cuba - away from his parents and, for many years, kept him away from his three children for long stretches.
Now it has reunited him with his older son, who was running an air-freight company in Miami before agreeing to join his father as an assistant coach at Savannah this season.
''This has been a special time for both of us,'' the son said. ''It's given us a chance to get close. Baseball used to take him away. Now, it has brought us together.''
Tiant spent nearly all of his pitching career separated from his own father, a former Negro-League standout in the 1930s and '40s. A retired Luis Tiant II was not allowed to leave Cuba to see his son pitch until the 1975 World Series. He died the next year.
Time has not lessened Tiant's bitterness toward Cuban leader Fidel Castro. When he talks about the Cuban government, the usually jovial Tiant's words come in angry bursts laced with profanities.
''Normal relations, (never)'' Tiant said in his heavy Cuban accent. ''We should never forget what has happened to the people in Cuba for 40 years. . . . All baseball cares about is getting players out of Cuba. It doesn't care about the suffering, just money. . . . The Orioles shouldn't have gone to Cuba. This is a free county, but that's the way I feel.''
Tiant, whose major-league career started with Cleveland in 1964, pitched in the majors until 1982. He faced his native Cuba in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta as pitching coach for a team from Nicaragua. He was a minor-league instructor for the Chicago White Sox in 1997, then was hired by Savannah last year.
School president Richard Rowan had lured former college and NBA star Cazzie Russell to head its NCAA Division III basketball program the year before, but his hiring of Tiant was more stunning.
''I had dreamed about being a college coach for a long time,'' Tiant said. ''But with no education, I never thought I would get a chance.''
The Bees put together a winning record this year, despite only playing only 10 games at home and having no practice field to call its own.
With ''El Tiante'' as an attraction, the team has no trouble scheduling road games. The Bees made a six-game trip to California, and twice visited New England.
''When I'm in Boston, I always feel like I'm home,'' said Tiant, who proudly wears his 1975 American League championship ring.
Tiant and his players were guests at a Boston Celtics game, and the Fleet Center crowd rose and broke into chants of ''Louie, Louie, Louie'' when Tiant was shown on the scoreboard.
''I almost cry, I feel so good,'' Tiant said.
''When we played up there, he couldn't go anywhere without someone stopping him,'' Savannah shortstop Tony Blankenship said. ''It was obvious how much they still love him.''
In Boston, no Red Sox pitcher is likely to match Tiant's popularity. Certainly, no one will duplicate Tiant's funky delivery, in which he released the ball from all angles.
''That's one thing he hasn't tried to teach anyone,'' freshman pitcher Josh Lane said. ''Only one person could pitch like that. And it was him.''
Published May 17, 1999, in the Akron Beacon Journal.
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