Luis Tiant, Boston, NY Yankees, Portland, Pittsburgh, LaGuaira, California and Santurce (Part IV)

Luis Tiant, a RHP, is best known for winning Games One and Four, 1975 World Series, versus Cincinnati, and a Game Six no-decision, a historic 6-3, 12-inning win for Boston, on Carlton Fisk’s three-run HR at Fenway. Boston was 0-4 in games Tiant did not start, and 3-0 in contests he started. Part III ended with Tiant’s stellar pitching in the 1975 World Series. Part IV picks up with Boston, 1976-78, and concludes with Santurce, 1982-83 Puerto Rico Winter League season. Tiant’s SABR bio by Mark Armour, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/2212deaf, is a good source.

Boston Red Sox, 1976-78 

How would Tiant perform in the “Disco Era”? He came of age with Cleveland (1964), when The Beatles became famous, and was expected to help Boston win more pennants. Paul Hartzell, who pitched for the 1976-78 California Angels, recalled: “Luis Tiant was the only guy I ever saw have a big, big cigar in his mouth on the field during batting practice.” On a more serious note, Hartzell added: “He was a money pitcher and a great competitor.”

Tiant was 21-12 for an 83-79 Red Sox team in 1976. He completed 19 of 38 starts; hurled 279 innings; struck out 131; walked 64; with a 3.06 ERA. Rick Wise (14-11) and Fergie Jenkins (12-11) were the #2 and #3 starters. Carl Yastrzemski (21 HR and 102 RBIs) had a solid year, but most of the team’s other regulars underperformed compared to 1975. Don Zimmer (42-34) replaced Darrell Johnson (41-45) as manager during the season. One of Tiant’s best efforts was a Thursday night (August 12, 1976) game at Anaheim Stadium, when Nolan Ryan also started. Both pitched 10-inning CG, in Boston’s 2-1 win. Ryan fanned nine and walked four; Tiant struck out three and walked two. Earlier in the season (May 25), Tiant shut out Detroit, 2-0, with perfect control (zero walks). Yastrzemski’s two-run HR off Mark “The Bird” Fidrych in the home fourth accounted for the game’s only runs. Tiant’s 20th win came at home, September 21, versus Milwaukee. He fanned 12 Brewers and allowed three hits, in a 7-1 win (first-game of a twin-bill). Sixto Lezcano, Brewers RF from Puerto Rico, later became Tiant’s teammate in Santurce. George Scott, Milwaukee’s 1B from Greenville, Mississippi, re-joined Boston in 1977.

On a sad note, Tiant’s parents never returned to Havana. They lived with Tiant Jr. and his family until they passed away, two days apart, in December 1976. The two (Luis Sr. and Isabel) were buried together near Tiant’s home in Milton, Massachusetts.

Tiant had a long holdout in the spring of 1977. His 1975 salary was $185,000, with a $5,000 raise for 1976 to $190,000; then, a $10,000 raise to $200,000 in 1977. Per his SABR bio, Tiant’s relationship with the team’s management was strained from this point forward. (Reliever Bill Campbell and starter Fergie Jenkins also had $200,000 salaries with the 1977 Red Sox.) The 97-64 Red Sox tied Baltimore for second in the AL East, 2.5 games behind the 100-62 Yankees.

Six Boston pitchers won 10+ games in 1977, including Tiant (12-8), Campbell (13-9), Jenkins (10-10), Reggie Cleveland (11-8), Rick Wise (11-5) and Mike Paxton (10-5). Tiant’s three CG, in 32 starts, were SHO. He also had a 1-0 win over Kansas City, June 6, saved by Campbell; a 3-0 victory versus California, saved by Bob Stanley. That July 30 game at Anaheim included 6.2 innings by Tiant and a Nolan Ryan CG. (Ryan led the league with 341 strikeouts; Frank Tanana, his teammate, had a league-best ERA, 2.54.) Tiant’s best game was his 7-0 CG win at Baltimore, June 21; allowing two hits and striking out five Orioles. Jim Rice and George Scott homered off Dennis Martínez in the fourth. Coincidentally, Paul Hartzell, with 1976-77 Santurce Crabbers, faced Martínez’s Caguas team, one with Eddie Murray, Sixto Lezcano and others.

Boston started 11-9 in April 1978; 23-7 in May and 18-7 in June. They faltered in July (13-15); rebounded in August (19-10); slumped in September (14-15): before a vital triumph by Tiant, October 1, helped 99-63 Boston tie the Yankees for first. Tiant (13-8) blanked Toronto, 5-0, at home; gave up two hits and no walks; struck out four. Catfish Hunter lost to Cleveland, which set up a one-game playoff at Fenway, against New York. The Yankees prevailed, 5-4, helped by Bucky Dent’s three-run HR, and Goose Gossage’s save. Tiant was 3-0 down the stretch. Before a September 23, 1978 game at Toronto, he said, «If we lose today, it will be over my dead body. They’ll have to leave me face down on the mound.» Tiant won, 3-1, to help Boston start an eight-game win streak. On September 27, he beat Detroit, 5-2, with relief help from Andy Hassler and Bob Stanley. In the offseason, the Red Sox offered Tiant a one-year contract, but he signed with the New York Yankees for two years, plus a 10-year deal as a scout. Dwight Evans was devastated at management’s ignorance of what Luis meant to the team. Carl Yastrzemski cried when he heard the news: «They tore out our heart and soul.” Circling back to Paul Hartzell’s quote on Tiant—a “money pitcher”—Tiant’s September-October Boston record was 31-12. His eight-year W-L Red Sox record was 122-81. Part V will cover some sabermetrics beyond W-L.

New York Yankees, 1979 and 1980 

Tiant was 13-8 for the 89-71 Yankees, fourth-place team, AL East. He completed five of 30 starts, in pitching 195.2 innings, with 104 strikeouts and 53 walks. His ERA was 3.91, slightly above the team’s 3.83 ERA. It was a veteran team with Tommy John (21-9), Catfish Hunter (2-9), Eduardo Figueroa (4-6) and 40-year old reliever Jim Kaat (2-3). Ron Guidry (18-8) and Jim Beattie (3-6) were the only starters under age 30. Tiant’s career and seven-year peak Wins Above Replacement (WAR) were higher than John, Hunter and Kaat. This is attributed, in part, to a 1979 season for Tiant, the #3 starter, when other potential starters such as Hunter, Figueroa and Beattie had sub-standard seasons. Part V will cover Jaffe’s WAR, known as JAWS, http://m.mlb.com/glossary/miscellaneous/jaws. JAWS is calculated by averaging career WAR with total WAR from a seven-year peak—player’s seven most valuable seasons (consecutive or non-consecutive). Tiant’s WAR, seven-year peak and JAWS, plus other data will be compared to Catfish Hunter, Don Drysdale, Jim Bunning, Mickey Lolich, Kaat, Tommy John, among others.

Tiant won his first 1979 game on May 22, versus Detroit, with Dick Tidrow saving it. His ERA was 6.49 after this game. He enjoyed defeating Boston, 3-2, at Yankee Stadium, September 4, with Goose Gossage pitching a scoreless ninth for the save. Tiant appreciated sharing moments with two former Red Sox teammates wearing pinstripes—Juan Beníquez, and George Scott.

Luis R. Mayoral interviewed Tiant at Yankee Stadium, during the 1979 season. His April 12, 2019 blog summarizing the interview and is at: https://beisbol101.com/2019/04/luis-tiant-el-cubano-inolvidable-maestro-del-monticulo-y-respetado-hermano/ Mayoral has strong feelings on Tiant not being inducted in Cooperstown. More on this in Part V.

The 1980 Yankees (103-59) had the best W-L record of any MLB team Tiant pitched for. After finishing first in the AL East by three games over Baltimore, they were swept by Kansas City in the ALCS. New York started Guidry, Rudy May and Tommy John in those three games. Tiant ended his Yankee stint with an 8-9 season in 1980, for a combined 21-17: 1979 and 1980. He started 25 games in 1980 (three CG), with 136.2 innings and 4.89 ERA. The emergence of LHP Rudy May (15-5) as a starter reduced Tiant’s workload. Tommy John (22-9), Guidry (17-10) and Tom Underwood (13-9), were a lefty trifecta. Eduardo Figueroa was ineffective (3-3, 6.98 ERA). The Yankees acquired 41-year old Gaylord Perry that summer, but he was 4-4 with a 4.44 ERA.

Portland Beavers and Pittsburgh Pirates, 1981

Luis Tiant with the Portland Beavers

Tiant signed with Pittsburgh in 1981, but spent most of the season with his old team in Portland. He was 13-7 with a 3.82 ERA for the Beavers, including a seven-inning no-hitter, April 18, 1981, against Spokane. It was strange (for Tiant) having Pete Ward as his Portland manager. Ward played 3B for the 1964 Chicago White Sox when Tiant was promoted from Portland to the Cleveland Indians. Tiant enjoyed pitching to Junior “El Gago” Ortiz, a fine defensive catcher, from Puerto Rico. Rosendo “Rusty” Torres, another Portland teammate from Puerto Rico (via the Bronx), was a joy to be around. Thirty-eight-year-old Willie Horton, ex-Detroit LF/DH, mid-1960s-late 1970s, could joke with Tiant about their age and how young they looked in 1964.

The 1981 Pittsburgh Pirates in a strike season were no longer the “We Are Family” team. Willie Stargell and Bert Blyleven were gone. Phil Garner, Tim Foli, Bill Madlock, Omar Moreno and Dave Parker were regulars, but the rotation was weak with Rick Rhoden, Eddie Solomon, Jim Bibby and Pascual Pérez. Tiant went 2-5 in nine starts, with a 3.92 ERA. He averaged 6.1 innings per start, with one CG, and was released at season’s end. Tony Peña, 24-year old catcher from the Dominican Republic, looked up to Tiant. “He was fun to catch,” said Peña. “I didn’t get to be his teammate until late in his career, but he knew how to pitch…a fine human being.”

Tiant’s 1981 Pittsburgh highlight was an 8-2 CG-win at Wrigley Field, September 15, in front of 5,254 paid fans. He cracked a bases-loaded double off reliever Willie Hernández, to empty the bases, in the sixth. Peña and Parker had two RBIs apiece. Tiant’s possible SHO was ruined by a two-out, two-run HR by Leon Durham, home ninth.

LaGuaira Sharks, 1981-82

Tiant’s last hurrah in Venezuela was disappointing: 0-2, 9.26 ERA, in three starts for LaGuaira.

Odell Jones, RHP for Pittsburgh and Portland, in 1981, reinforced LaGuaira. Ditto for prospects Jesse Orosco and Tim Leary. Veteran Aurelio Monteagudo was with LaGuaira. So was a 17-year old shortstop named Oswaldo “Ozzie” Guillén, a prospect, along with Luis Sálazar, Alfredo Pedrique and Gustavo Polidor. Tiant’s regular season career totals in Venezuela were: 82 games, 75 starts, 29 CG, three saves, 37-24 W-L, .607 PCT, 563.1 innings, 469 hits, 468 strikeouts, 163 walks, 2.27 ERA and 1.122 WHIP. His post-season totals included: 19 games, 14 starts, six CG,

6-8 W-L, .429 PCT, 118.1 innings, 121 hits, 93 strikeouts, 43 walks, 3.35 ERA and 1.386 WHIP. Source: http://www.pelotabinaria.com.ve/beisbol/mostrar.php?ID=tianlui001).

California Angels, 1982

Buzzy Bavasi, Angels GM, signed Tiant, hoping the 41-year old “had something left in his right arm.” These Angels had all position players in their 30s, e.g., RF Reggie Jackson, 2B Bobby Grich, SS Tim Foli, CF Fred Lynn and DH Don Baylor. Four of the five most active starters well into their 30s—Geoff Zahn, Ken Forsch, Steve Renko and Bruce Kison. Mike Witt (age 21) was the kid. It’s likely that Preston Gómez, Angels 3B coach (originally from Cuba), put in a good word for Tiant? Gene Mauch (Angels skipper) never won an AL or NL pennant, nor Division, until a 1982 West Division title (93-69). Mauch was once criticized for overusing Jim Bunning and Chris Short with the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies, the last two weeks. Tiant started five games for Mauch, with a 2-2 record, 5.76 ERA, 30 strikeouts and eight walks, in 29.2 innings. His last MLB win came against the Red Sox, on August 17, an 8-2 victory. He pitched eight innings, with eight strikeouts, two walks, and one unearned run allowed. Tiant, 2-1, 2.95 ERA, after the win, faltered in his final start (September 4) at Milwaukee, which—under Harry Dalton’s leadership as GM—won the 1982 AL East crown. Tiant was left off the post-season roster.

Bavasi also signed 39-year old Tommy John, with seven late-season starts for California, and the Game One starter, 1982 ALCS, an 8-3 Angels win. California won Game Two before losing three straight at Milwaukee. Dalton felt vindicated, since he was the Angels GM, after having success as Baltimore’s GM. Dalton’s close friendship with Santurce Crabbers owner Hiram Cuevas, dating to 1966-67, accounted for Earl Weaver and Frank Robinson managing Santurce, 1966-67 through the mid-1970s. Santurce had access to Baltimore’s best prospects, i.e., Paul Blair, Dave May, Jim Palmer, Elrod Hendricks, Davey Johnson, Don Baylor… When Dalton was California’s GM, he approved Paul Hartzell, Tony Solaita, among others, joining Santurce.

Santurce Crabbers, 1982-83

José “Ronquito” García, Santurce’s GM, played against Tiant in the Mexican League, 1959-to-1961. He offered his friend a Crabbers contract. Tony Pérez, age 40, was signed for a last winter season as Santurce’s DH. This “win-now” club had Eduardo Figueroa and Rogelio Moret. (Moret was traded to Caguas for a player to be named later, mid-December.) Ken Dayley, LHP, Atlanta Braves, was a valuable import. Reggie Patterson, a White Sox prospect, also started. Brian Kelly became another Santurce starting pitcher. Position players included catchers Chris Bando, Eliseo Rodríguez and Orlando Sánchez, 1B Guillermo “Willie” Montañez, 2B Glenn Gulliver, SS Iván de Jesús Sr., 3B Pat Tabler, OF Juan Beníquez, Jerry Morales, Sixto Lezcano and Otto Vélez. Tabler had faced Tiant in 1981, as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Tabler called Tony Pérez “the most influential guy on the team” for his leadership abilities; and, looked up to Tiant, asking him how he could still pitch so well past the age of 40. Tiant responded that he ate a daily rattlesnake concoction, a powdery thing that if sprinkled on food, could prolong one’s career. Tabler took one sniff of it, licked it and tasted it before throwing it away! Vélez joked that “Tiant was as old as Methuselah!”

Santurce played their homes at Bayamón’s Juan Loubriel Stadium, a wise move by owner Reinaldo “Poto” Paniagua, considering regular season home attendance was 200,414. They shared this stadium with the Bayamón Cowboys. The Crabbers bullpen included Guillermo “Willie” Hernández, Mark Brown, José Alvarez and Mark Smith. The 60-game regular season included three 20-game “vueltas” or phases. Here is a summary of Tiant’s 1982-83 regular season starts (home-and-away) for Santurce, with Tiant and his opponent’s W-L record:

  • October 31, 1982 (home)—lost to Ponce, 4-2; Craig Lefferts (1-0), Tiant (0-1)
  • November 6 (home)—defeated Arecibo, 11-3; Tiant (1-1), René Quiñones lost (0-1)
  • November 13 (away)—no-decision; Santurce bested Mayagüez, 3-2
  • November 19 (away)—defeated Bayamón, 13-2; Tiant (2-1), Andy Hawkins lost (3-1)
  • November 25 (home)—defeated Ponce, 7-2, on Thanksgiving; Tiant (3-1), Greg Harris lost (3-1)
  • December 2 (home)—defeated Arecibo, 9-1; Tiant (4-1), René Quiñones (0-3); Candy

Maldonado homered off Tiant; Willie Hernández relieved Tiant

  • December 7 (away)—lost to Arecibo, 9-2; Rich Bordi (4-1), Tiant (4-2)
  • December 12 (home)—defeated Bayamón, 5-1; Tiant (5-2), Dave Dravecky (2-2); this was “Tony Pérez Day, with paid attendance of 9,578
  • December 18 (home)—lost to Ponce, 11-8; Bob Ojeda (4-4), Tiant (5-3); Santurce announced star reliever Mark Brown hurt his back, and would be replaced by LHP Carlos Díaz, who pitched for the 1982 Richmond Braves, Class AAA, Atlanta organization
  • January 6, 1983 (home)—lost to Arecibo, 2-1; Rich Bordi (6-1), Tiant (5-4); game played on Three Kings Day, an important Island holiday.

Tiant pitched 65.1 innings for Santurce, with 43 strikeouts and 15 walks, to go with a 5-4 record, and 3.46 ERA. Santurce (34-26) and Ponce (34-26) played a tie-breaker for first-place on January 17, 1983, won by Santurce, 7-6, with Dayley (9-1) the winner. Santurce faced fourth-place Arecibo (28-32) in one semi-final; Ponce opposed Bayamón (32-28) in the other one.

Santurce won the first two games versus Arecibo, behind Tiant (Game One) and Dayley (Game Two). Sixto Lezcano suffered a broken right wrist in the opener, after being hit by a Keith Creel pitch. Arecibo responded by winning the next four games, to advance to the finals, versus Ponce. Tiant relieved Dayley in Game Six, January 25, 1983, in Arecibo’s 9-6 win. Arecibo went on to defeat Ponce, and win the February 1983 Caribbean Series, for the only time in their history.

Before concluding this blog, here are some impressions of Tiant by Brian Harper (.378 AVG), Tony Gwynn (.368 AVG), Dickie Thon (.347 AVG) and League MVP Carmelo Martínez (.333 AVG with league-best 17 HR), who were one-two-four-five in the league batting race. Harper was Tiant’s 1981-82 LaGuaira teammate. He respected Tiant for his cunning and tenacity on the mound, at an advanced age. Harper made sure to compliment Gwynn, too: “Tony was getting hot. If he didn’t get injured [latter part of 1982-83 season], he probably would have won the batting title and hit .400. The next [1983-84] winter we had a real good line-up with Gwynn, Thon, Kevin McReynolds, Carmelo Martínez and Luis Aguayo.”

 Gwynn recalled (prior to a June 6, 1998 San Diego Padres at Texas Rangers game): “When I was at Bayamón, I got to play against Luis Tiant, Ed Figueroa…guys that I had watched growing up…had a ball down there and learned a lot about the game going down there. Those were two of the best off-seasons that I have ever had.” Gwynn elaborated on many other items, including the 1982-83 Bayamón-Santurce rivalry and the 1983-84 San Juan-Santurce rivalry, when Bayamón moved back to San Juan, but this can be covered in a separate blog.

Dickie Thon opined that Tiant was a true professional, who worked diligently on his craft at age 42. Carmelo Martínez, born in Dorado, Puerto Rico, July 28, 1960, was a few months old when Tiant pitched for Havana, 1960-61 winter season. Martínez echoed Thon’s remarks about Tiant’s professionalism on the field, and his pitching artistry.

Tiant’s regular-season career totals in Puerto Rico were: 15-16 W-L, 3.60 ERA, 250.2 innings, 191 strikeouts and 92 walks. He was 1-1 in semi-finals play; 2-1 in 1962 Interamerican Series. 

Thanks to Ronquito García, Tony Gwynn, Brian Harper, Paul Hartzell, Carmelo Martínez, Luis R. Mayoral, Pat Tabler, Dickie Thon and Otto Vélez. Jorge Colón Delgado provided Tiant’s Puerto Rico stats.

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