Every year you hear about this player or that player going into the Hall of Fame or who should be enshrined in the Hall. Well, if I have my say that guy would be Luis Tiant. He came into prominence with the Boston Red Sox and is remembered for his heroic performance in the 1975 season and World Series that year against the Cincinnati Reds.
Tiant was so important to the Red Sox, and for baseball in general, that even the late Cuban President Fidel Castro, a true baseball lover, let the parents of Tiant come to America to be with his son. When I was a batboy for the New York Yankees, I remember being in the visitors clubhouse and hearing Carlton Fisk tell Bernie Carbo, that Tiant by far was his favorite teammate ever.
I thought that was the coolest thing in the world because Fisk was not one of the best liked players in baseball especially with that crew in the Bronx. In 1979, Tiant signed as a free agent with the Yankees and quickly became one of George Steinbrenner’s favorite players. His laughter filled the clubhouse so much that even when Tiant told a bad joke everyone would laugh because his robust laughter was funnier than the joke.
Just like any big business, baseball does deal with a lot of jealousy, dislike, and negativity. However, Tiant was a person, I have never heard anyone say a bad thing about. Tiant is a straight shooter who will tell you to “Kiss his Big Black Ass” if he thinks you are wrong or disrespect the game of baseball.
Tiant was very proud of being a Yankee, so I can only imagine his pride in being with the Red Sox. I believe this is why Carlton Fisk had such strong feelings about Tiant, as he would constantly make mention of him during his Hall of Fame induction speech up in Cooperstown.
I also believe how Thurman Munson felt about Tiant, that was the only thing that Carlton Fisk and Munson ever had in common. As we all know, Munson was not a fan of Fisk. Munson had such a strong feeling about Tiant that it was his urging as to why George Steinbrenner signed him.
I remember when the Yankees lost to Kansas City in the 1980 playoffs. The Boss came into the clubhouse and went into the players lounge. In the corner by the soda machine was Rich Gossage and Tiant. The Boss went over to “Goose” and put his arm around him, told him not to cry and that we would be back next year and get to the World Series.
He then grabbed Tiant by the shoulders and said, “Had we won today, I would bet Yankee Stadium that you would definitely win tomorrow.” And then he said, “You are the one guy that I would have wanted in that big game.”
Tiant was so grateful that he gave the Boss a big hug. As we all are aware, the Boss could be the toughest S.O.B. but he could also be soft, especially when it came to kids or his players.
I’m not getting into lifetime statistics. You can look that up yourself, however at the end of his career Tiant had statistics very similar to the great Jim “Catfish” Hunter. He is also the winningest Cuban pitcher on record and until this day he is still beloved in Boston.
When Tiant finally retired, I know for a fact that George Steinbrenner tried to get Tiant to work with his young players, especially the Latin pitchers that the Yankees had. For whatever the reason, it just didn’t work out and the Boss was very disappointed.
In the Yankees clubhouse, Tiant was especially known as “Uncle T.” When Cuban players get into this country somehow one of the first calls they get is usually from Tiant to give them advice and wish them good luck.
This week the MLB Network is broadcasting their latest documentary entitled, “Cuba Island of Baseball.” Luis Tiant plays a very prominent part in it. You even see President Obama and the First Lady Michelle go out of their way to meet the great Luis Tiant who is considered Cuba’s greatest pitcher and to me their greatest man.
I can say that, because I thank God everyday that I really know him.