Luis Tiant: Cooperstown Hall of Fame Credentials plus other Honors and Awards (Part V)

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 Park. Boston was 0-4 in games Tiant did not start, and 3-0 in contests he started. Part IV ended with Tiant’s 5-4 regular season for 1982-83 Santurce Crabbers in Puerto Rico; his semi-final series win; and compliments from a quartet of players from arch-rival 1982-83 Bayamón Cowboys. Part V focuses on Tiant’s Cooperstown merits, plus his coaching. His SABR bio by Mark Armour, is located at https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/2212deaf.

Senior League

Tiant was 0-1 with a 5.00 ERA for Miami, eight-team 1989 Senior Professional Baseball Association, aka Senior League. He signed with the Winter Haven Super Sox, but was traded to Miami’s Gold Coast Suns. The legendary pitcher and cigar enthusiast was traded for 500 teddy bears and OF Ralph Garr! These Teddy Ruxpins bears were big in the 1980s, inspiring a Saturday morning cartoon show. A cassette tape went into the bear and, with his eyes moving like haunted painting, he would read to you. Tiant was A-OK with this trade: “It’s OK, I don’t mind. I just wanted to go closer to Miami [Florida].” https://www.mlb.com/cut4/luis-tiant-was-once-traded-for-teddy-bears

Let the Analytics Begin

The author (mid-March 1993), hooked up with Tiant in Vero Beach, Florida, Dodgers minor-league complex, when Tiant was a minor-league pitching coach. We covered many topics, including his Cooperstown Hall of Fame (HOF) chances. By 1993, Tiant was on the ballot six times, 1988-1993, inclusive, with diminishing votes. Tiant went from 30.9 percent in 1988 to 10.5 percent in 1989; Mickey Lolich dropped from 25.5 percent in 1988, to 10.5 percent in 1989. Don Drysdale (1984 inductee) and Catfish Hunter (1987 inductee) were mentioned. (Tiant never faced Drysdale, but was Hunter’s 1979 teammate with the New York York Yankees.) “Catfish was very good,” said Tiant. “He pitched in many World Series [and ALCS] games.” The author will refer to this: https://www.cooperstowncred.com/last-chance-for-luis-tiant-for-the-hall-of-fame/

TABLE I: Pitchers on Cooperstown HOF Ballot, 1984-88

Pitcher W-L PCT ERA WHIP HOF Outcome
Don Drysdale 209-166 .557 2.95 1.148 10th ballot inductee, 1984.
Catfish Hunter 224-166 .574 3.26 1.134 3rd ballot inductee, 1987.
Jim Bunning 224-184 .549 3.27 1.179 74.2 % (1988), Veterans Committee (1996).
Mickey Lolich 217-191 .532 3.44 1.227 25.5 % (1988), 10.5 % (1989).
Luis Tiant 229-172 .571 3.30 1.196 30.9 % (1988), 10.5 % (1989).
Five Pitchers# 221-176 .557 3.25 1.161 Three inductees; two non-inductees.

# This is the big-league career average for these five (5) pitchers.

Tiant’s career W-L mark and ERA closely mirrors Hunter’s totals. However, seven pitchers

made their way on the HOF ballot, 1989-94: Fergie Jenkins (1989), Gaylord Perry (1989), Jim Palmer (1990), Tom Seaver (1992), Phil Niekro (1993), Steve Carlton (1994) and Don Sutton (1994). This made it tough for Tiant (and Lolich) to get writers’ votes. In the four years before Tiant’s debut on the ballot, the writers inducted two starting pitchers, Don Drysdale (1984) and Catfish Hunter (1987). Voters in the 1980s and 1990s, put much emphasis on W-L and ERA. Thus, a starting pitching “logjam” faced Tiant and Lolich by 1989. How could they compete with 268-game winner Palmer, 284-game winner Jenkins, and five other starters with 300+ wins apiece, from Seaver’s 311 to Carlton’s 329? In 1999, Nolan Ryan (324-292) made his first appearance on this ballot, and was inducted. Jim Kaat (1989), Tommy John (1995) and Bert Blyleven (1998) appeared for the first time. Of these three, only Blyleven (2011) was inducted. Tiant’s “drop” from 30.9 percent of the writer’s votes in 1988, to 10.5 percent in 1989, is the largest decline—66 percent—in the history of this voting.

TABLE II: Nine Cooperstown HOF Inductees (Starters Only) on Ballot, 1989-99

Pitcher W-L PCT ERA WHIP HOF Outcome
Fergie Jenkins 284-226 .557 3.34 1.142 3rd ballot inductee, 1991.
Gaylord Perry 314-265 .542 3.11 1.181 3rd ballot inductee, 1991.
Jim Palmer 268-152 .638 2.86 1.180 1st ballot inductee, 1990.
Tom Seaver 311-205 .603 2.86 1.121 1st ballot inductee. 1992.
Phil Niekro 318-274 .537 3.35 1.268 5th ballot inductee, 1997.
Steve Carlton 329-244 .574 3.22 1.247 1st ballot inductee, 1994.
Don Sutton 324-256 .559 3.26 1.142 5th ballot inductee, 1998.
Nolan Ryan 324-292 .526 3.19 1.247 1st ballot inductee, 1999.
Bert Blyleven 287-250 .534 3.31 1.198 14th ballot inductee, 2011.

Per Chris Bodig, in 1988, Tiant’s career was judged on its own. In 1989, it was judged in comparison to Perry, Jenkins and Kaat. In 1990, it was judged in comparison to Perry, Jenkins, Kaat and Palmer. Kaat never got close to the 75 percent finish line needed for a Cooperstown plaque, but he out-polled Tiant every year. Along the way, Tiant and Kaat suffered in comparison to Seaver, Phil Niekro and Sutton, who hit the ballot, 1992-94.

Bill James HOF Monitor and Jaffe WAR Score System (JAWS)

Bill James created a comprehensive batter and pitcher HOF Monitor, one which assigns points to achievements, e.g., five points to Catfish Hunter for his 1974 Cy Young Award; four points to Luis Tiant for two single-season ERA titles (1968 and 1972), at two points each. Tiant earned 15 points for 229 career wins; Hunter got 10 points for his 224 career wins. This is due to a layered system where Nolan Ryan got 35 points for his 300+ career wins; Fergie Jenkins, 25 points for 275+ wins; Jim Palmer, 20 points for 250+ wins, and so on. Had Hunter won one more regular season game, he would have earned 137 HOF Monitor points, instead of 132. Had Tiant won a Cy Young Award, his 97 points would be 102 points, slightly above the 100 HOF average. More details on the HOF Monitor are at https://www.baseball-reference.com/about/leader_glossary.shtml

When it comes to Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Hunter’s 40.9 career WAR is averaged with his seven-year peak WAR of 34.9, to result in JAWS of 37.9. Here is the math: (40.9 plus 34.9) divided by two—equals: 37.9. For Tiant: (66.1 career WAR plus 44.1 seven-year peak) divided by two—equals 55.1, superior, by far, to Hunter. WAR, peak WAR and JAWS do NOT consider Cy Young Awards, no-hitters, perfect games, World Series, ALCS or NLCS wins, Gold Gloves, etc. Hunter’s 1970-74 Oakland A’s teams and 1975-79 New York Yankee clubs, were far superior defensively and pitching-wise, that decade, to the 1971-78 Boston Red Sox. Tiant “stood out” on those Red Sox teams, but Oakland and New York had much better starters (Ken Holtzman, Vida Blue, Ron Guidry and Eduardo Figueroa) and relievers (Rollie Fingers, Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage) than Boston. Fenway Park was a “hitter’s park,” but Oakland-Alameda County Stadium was a “pitcher’s park,” when Hunter pitched home games.

This is where Jorge Colón Delgado comes in. He opined that the author should “not compare Tiant’s big-league career pitching records to those of Jack Morris, 1977-1994,” since Morris pitched exclusively in the “Free Agent Era.” Conversely, about three-fourths of Tiant’s big-league seasons were in the 1961-1976 era; with approximately one-fourth in that 1977-1994 period. Catfish Hunter’s 1965-1979 big-league career (15 seasons) closely matches Tiant’s 1964-1982 (19 seasons). Tiant’s injuries, mid-career, coupled with sporadic pitching in 1981 and 1982, give Tiant the “equivalent” of about 16 big-league seasons.  For more on JAWS, please see https://www.baseball-reference.com/about/jaws.shtml

Circling back to Tiant, Hunter, Drysdale, Bunning and Lolich, Table III has newer metrics—ERA+ (reflects ballpark dimensions), JAWS and HOF Monitor (HOFM)—combined with other “older” categories, and post-season accomplishments (ALCS, WS). 

TABLE III: Drysdale, Hunter, Bunning, Lolich and Tiant with Old and New Metrics

Pitcher GS-CG SHO ERA+ JAWS HOFM Post-Season Accomplishments
Don Drysdale 465-167 49 121 55.9 132 3-3, 2.95 ERA in WS games; three rings.
Catfish Hunter 476-181 42 104 37.9 132 9-6, 3.26 ERA in WS + ALCS; five rings.
Jim Bunning 519-151 40 115 54.2   98 No post-season appearances.
Mickey Lolich 496-195 41 104 42.9   97 3-0, 1.67 ERA, 1968 WS; 0-1, 1972 ALCS.
Luis Tiant 484-187 49 114 55.1   97 3-0, 2.65 ERA, 1975 ALCS and 1975 WS.
Five Pitchers# 488-176 44 112 49.2 111 Three inductees; two non-inductees.

# This is the big-league career average for these five (5) pitchers.

During his seven years in Oakland (1968-74), Hunter posted a 2.38 ERA at home and a 3.79 ERA on the road. That’s a huge difference. Tiant’s ERA in eight years at Fenway was 3.29, which was slightly better than his 3.45 road ERA during those same years. Per Chris Bodig: If one excludes players still on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) ballot, “Tiant is one of only three players in the history of the HOF BBWAA ballot to debut with at least 30 percent of the vote and not eventually get a plaque in Cooperstown.” Bodig was “not puzzled to see Tiant missing” from the 2020 “Modern Baseball” ballot. “He made no headway in six appearances with the Veterans or Eras Committees and the aging Tiant has clearly been growing bitter about it.”

“I already told my family, ‘They put me after I die, don’t go anywhere. Don’t go to the Hall of Fame, don’t go to Cooperstown, don’t go no god— place.’ Cause I think it’s wrong what they do… What good is that they put you in after you die? You can’t do nothing with your family and your friends.”

— Luis Tiant, The Sporting News (April 17, 2017)

Additional thoughts on Tiant’s challenges, in not reaching Cooperstown, are at: https://universobeisbol.mlblogs.com/cubanos-cooperstown-y-la-discriminaci%C3%B3n-en-el-b%C3%A9isbol-92002fb08e3c

Tiant’s Outlook, Charisma and Other Accomplishments

Players are entitled to their own opinions, just as sportswriters and analysts. The author understands Tiant’s frustration, having conversed with him in Vero Beach, Florida (1993), and prior to the 2009 HOF Induction Ceremony, when Tiant stood next to Juan Marichal, member of the Class of 1983. Tiant was always accessible to the media, as a player, and very personable. In 2009, Jim Rice (who made it on his 15th try via the voters, starting with 29 percent, in 1995); Rickey Henderson (the author’s favorite player of his era); and Joe Gordon (who played high school baseball against the author’s father in Portland, Oregon); were enshrined in Cooperstown. Tony Kubek was a 2009 Ford Frick honoree. The author met Kubek at Yankee Stadium, prior to a 1991 late-season home game. Kubek mentioned his [Yankee] teammate, Luis “Tite” Arroyo. Arroyo and Tiant tended to gain weight during the off-season, a factor mentioned in Luis Tiant,

Part II, when Cleveland prohibited Tiant from pitching 1968-69 winter ball in Venezuela.

Back to winter ball, Tiant was Art Howe’s pitching coach with the 1994-95 Toros del Este, champions of the Dominican Winter League. Tiant spent a week in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the February 4-9, 1995 Caribbean Series. Pedro Martínez and José Rijo were the top two starters for the Toros, but the San Juan “Dream Team,” with an All-Star line-up, went undefeated, 6-0, with two big wins: 16-0 over the Toros, on February 6, knocking out Pedro Martínez; then, a 9-3 win, on February 9, with Rijo taking the loss. Howe and Tiant had no excuses. Puerto Rico was solid with Roberto Alomar (2B), DH Edgar Martínez, 3B Carlos Baerga, 1B Carmelo Martínez, SS Rey Sánchez (league batting champ, ninth-place hitter in the series), plus an OF with Juan González, Bernie Williams and Rubén Sierra. Carlos Delgado caught.

Tiant was listed as the pitching coach for Nicaragua, 1996 Olympics, Atlanta, Georgia, at Fulton County Stadium. Nicaragua finished fourth, after losing the Bronze Medal game, to Team USA. Cuba and Japan were one-two. In 1997, he was inducted in the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame. From 1998-2001, Tiant was the head baseball coach at the Savannah (Georgia) College of Art and Design. He also worked as a minor-league pitching coach with the Chicago White Sox, in addition to the Dodgers, and as a Spanish language broadcaster for the Red Sox. Tiant spoke highly of Sandy Koufax (WAR 48.9, 46.0—seven-year peak WAR, 47.4 JAWS, ERA+ of 131).  Koufax became a Cooperstown Hall of Famer, with the equivalent of 10 full seasons, but a HOF Monitor of an astronomic 227. Koufax (1956-57 season) and Tiant (1961-62) both pitched for the Caguas Criollos, in Puerto Rico. Jim Bunning (1974-76) managed Caguas for two seasons.

Final Thoughts: Tiant versus Hunter, Drysdale, Bunning and Lolich

Hunter’s five WS championship rings and Drysdale’s three, speak volumes. Both retired at a relatively young age, 33 (Hunter) and 32 (Drysdale), unlike Tiant (early 40s). Drysdale pitched at the hitter-friendly Ebbets Field (1956-57) and Los Angeles Coliseum (1958-1961), pre-Dodgers Stadium, more suited for pitchers, 1962-69. Hunter pitched the ninth perfect game in MLB history, May 8, 1968, at Oakland (versus Minnesota). Drysdale pitched 58.2 consecutive scoreless innings in 1968, to break Walter Johnson’s standard of 55.2 straight scoreless frames, set for the 1913 Washington Senators. Bunning threw a June 21, 1964 perfect game against the New York Mets, and a July 20, 1958 no-hitter for Detroit versus Boston. He also won 100+ games in the AL and NL. The HOF Veterans Committee rewarded Bunning, with a 1996 induction. The author feels that Lolich and Tiant were under-rated. Lolich was 19-5 as a pitcher for Lincoln High School, in Portland, Oregon, a rival of Washington High School, where the author’s father played catcher, a generation before Lolich pitched for Lincoln. Bias aside, it is still preferable to do this type of analysis via players from the same era.

Tiant pitched 37 more innings than Hunter, 3,486.1 to 3,449.1. If Tiant could have won at least 21 more big-league games, to reach 250, that would translate to five more HOF Monitor points. What if Boston had played Los Angeles in the 1978 World Series, assuming they defeat Kansas City in the ALCS? Tiant never got to pitch for California in the 1982 ALCS, since Tommy John got a roster spot, and started Game One of that ALCS versus Milwaukee. It appears that Tiant will never be a Cooperstown inductee, but this does not detract from his accomplishments. Timing played a major role in this Hall of Fame scenario, with a bunch of 300+ game winners eligible for Cooperstown early in Tiant’s eligibility. Catfish Hunter (2-9, 5.31 ERA) and Luis Tiant (13-8, 3.91 ERA) were 1979 teammates with the New York Yankees in Hunter’s last major league season. Tiant was 12-16, from 1980-82, but 217-156, .582 PCT, from 1964-1979. Would this have made a difference to the BBWAA? Probably not? Circling back to a recent conversation with Jorge Colón Delgado—it comes down to data, e.g., 250+ MLB career wins, a Cy Young Award, more post-season opportunities and so on. Tiant was a 4x 20-game winner (but never won 25); a 3x AL All-Star; 3x in the “Top Six” Cy Young voting; with 2,416 strikeouts, 404 more than Hunter’s 2,012. More information is at: https://www.si.com/mlb/2017/11/10/hall-fame-modern-baseball-era-committee

With deep appreciation to Luis Tiant, for his time and goodwill. Thanks to Jorge Colón Delgado on insights regarding player comparisons by specific areas, being objective, and having integrity.

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