Luis Clemente Tiant was born in Havana, Cuba and was the only child of Luis and Isabel Tiant. From 1926 through 1948 the senior Tiant was recognized as one of Cuba’s most celebrated athletes. Luis Sr. was a great left-handed pitcher for the New York Cubans, and his exploits were followed by the entire population of Cuba.
A victim of baseball’s color line prior to the Brooklyn Dodgers signing of Jackie Robinson in 1947, Luis, Sr. retired from baseball in 1948 at the age of 42 without ever appearing in the major leagues.
Luis Tiant Jr. followed his father’s footsteps at an early age. He joined the local Little League program and progressed to the Juvenile League where he starred for the Havana team and earned a berth on the Cuban Juvenile League All Star team in 1957.
Tiant displayed great pitching ability at an early age which was recognized by former Indians player Bobby Avila, who was scouting for talent in Havana. Avila recommended Tiant to the manager of the Mexico City Tigers of the Mexican League. Tiant accepted their offer of $150 per month and for the next three years divided his time between Mexico City (Tigers) and Havana (Sugar Kings).
At the end of the summer of 1961 the Cleveland Indians purchased Tiant‘s contract for $35,000. The occasion was bittersweet for Luis, as the rise of Castro’s communist regime in his native Cuba made it impossible for him to return home to visit his parents. He would not see his father for 14 years.
Tiant progressed rapidly and on July 17, 1964 he got the call to the big leagues. Two days later, in his first major league start, he defeated Whitey Ford and the defending American League Champion New York Yankees 3-0.
Tiant continued to pitch well in the ’60s. In 1968 he won 21 games with an outstanding ERA of 1.68, the lowest in the American League since Walter Johnson’s 1.49 mark during the dead ball era in 1919.
After an injury plagued season in 1969, Tiant was traded over the off-season to the Minnesota Twins. Luis won his first six decisions for the Twins in 1970 before suffering a fractured right scapula that forced him to miss the remainder of the season.
Tiant then signed with the Boston Red Sox Triple A affiliate in 1971 and was promoted to the Red Sox. Despite struggling with a 1-7 record, 4.88 ERA as a rookie, Tiant would soon become one of the greatest pitchers in Red Sox history.
Known as “El Tiante” in Boston, Tiant rediscovered his magic and went 15-6 with a 1.91 ERA in 1972–an American League best in ERA.
Luis Tiant won at least 20 games for Boston for three of the next four seasons, going 20-13 in 1973, 22-13 in 1974, and 21-12 in 1976. Though hampered by back problems in 1975, Tiant won 18 games for the American League Champion Red Sox and then excelled for Boston in the post-season.
Luis Tiant‘s success in 1975 was made all the sweeter when he was reunited with his mother and father, who were allowed to visit from Cuba under a special visa. Known for his style and charisma as much as for his great pitching, Tiant became very popular in Boston. His fu manchu mustache, hearty smile and penchant for smoking cigars, made Luis recognizable, but it was his classic wind up and delivery that had kids imitating him throughout New England. Twisting and turning his body into unthinkable positions, Louie spent more time looking at second base than he did the plate as he prepared to throw.
When Tiant did throw to the plate he baffled hitters with a wide assortment of pitches. In the 1970’s, “El Tiante” won 142 games during the regular season and averaged 15 wins a year. He was even better in the post season. In game one of the American League Championship Series against Oakland Tiant pitched a complete game three hitter, in the 7-1 Sox win.
The “Loo-ie” era ended after the 1978 season when he joined the Yankees as a free agent. Luis compiled a 21-17 record with the Yankees over two seasons from 1979-80. But even playing for the hated Yankees didn’t diminish his status as a Red Sox’s legend.
In 19 years, “El Tiante,” compiled a 229-172 record with a 3.30 earned run average. He won 20 games four times, led the American League in shutouts three times and struck out 2,416 batters during his illustrious career.
Luis Tiant retired at age 42 in 1982 and has fallen short the past few years on being elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Currently Tiant serves as the pitching coach for Savannah College. He finished his major league career with 229 wins and 172 losses and a lifetime 3.30 ERA, which included 49 shutouts.