El Tiante

El Tiante

The Red Sox have had many unique players don the "B" and take the field at Fenway Park. Ted Williams and his grumpy, John Wayne-like persona, a god among men. His teammate "The Scientist," Dom DiMaggio, in his spectacles. In the 1960s and '70s there was tough-as-nails Carl Yastrzemski and, of course, "Spaceman" Bill Lee with his Eephus pitch and communist leanings. More recently we witnessed Manny Ramirez' antics and that strange Kevin Youkilis batting stance. 

But today the spotlight is on none of these men. It falls on the one-and-only Luis Tiant. The man they call "El Tiante" is known for his intensity and for being a big-game pitcher. He dominated in Boston and lead the Sox' charge to the American League pennant in 1975. Outside of his playing style, Tiant is known for some quirky traits. First off, a twisting, loopy windup before each pitch that at one point would have him facing out to center field. The Cuban ace is also known for his deep love of cigars; you can find him smoking away at any point of the day, including in the shower! There is, of course, his trademark horseshoe moustache that works its way down to the chin. He's had this iconic facial hair since the early '70s but since going grey it has become especially impactful. 

El Tiante is someone you can't take your eyes off off – he controls a game and its viewers' attention. On a team full of talent, amongst names like Yastrzemski, Rice, and Fisk, Tiant was the guy both fans and players wanted to get behind. Even in photographs he stands out. Tiant's personal style breaks through the uniformity of sport. It can be hard to explain, but some ballplayers just "have it," a certain swagger; red-hot pitching with a cooler-than-cool demeanour... El Tiante is ice cold. 

Though he may have retired after the 1982 season, Tiant is still very popular with baseball fans. He is greeted with much fanfare when in Boston. And recently a documentary film was made about the Cuban-born pitcher's journey back to his homeland after having spent almost 50 years in exile. As there have been ongoing travel restrictions between Cuba and the United States many Cuban players, including Tiant, have been forced to say goodbye to friends and family in order to pursue a major league career. As he did on the mound, Tiant shines on the screen, a quiet but captivating protagonist in a full-length film. 

Somewhat amazingly, Tiant has not been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was first on the ballot in 1998 and appeared a few times after that but has not been able to receive enough votes. But, as MLB.com points out in an article about the pitcher, Tiant's numbers line up with one of the all-time greats, Catfish Hunter. 

Hunter: 224-166, 3.26 ERA, 104 ERA+, 2,012 Ks, 954 BBs
Tiant: 217-156, 3.21 ERA, 118 ERA+, 2,270 Ks, 1,027 BBs 

Tiant led the American League in ERA twice, in 1968 with Cleveland and in 1972 with the Red Sox. He was cut by the Twins in 1970 and left for dead, but changed his pitching style to include those jerky motions and became the go-to arm in Boston. It was a career of reinvention bookended by dominance, one that certainly deserves the ultimate recognition of being celebrated in Cooperstown. He's been added to the ballot this year so hopefully this Hall of Fame issue gets resolved, but even if not, Luis Tiant has something that many Hall of Famers do not: iconic style. When you think of stand-out images of Major League Baseball at various points over the years, Tiant's dominant profile is one of them. He makes up a part of baseball's visual memory book, which is priceless.  

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