Luis Tiant, Perpetual Motion

On Luis Tiant, and the contortions that lead to grace. From the new e-book "The Hall of Nearly Great"
Share |
Swag on clammy-mustachioed high-number.

Image via Bleacher Report.

Back in February, we talked to Marc Normandin about what was then a worthy Kickstarter project: an e-book on players great enough to persist in fans' memories, but not quite great or lucky or linear enough for Cooperstown. In the months since, the project was funded thrice over, changed its name from "The Hall of Very Good" to "The Hall of Nearly Great," and became a 43-chapter e-book of essays on baseball's most fascinating near-greats. A number of Classical people contributed to the book, including Jon Bernhardt, Eric Nusbaum, David Raposa and David Roth; eminences such as Jeff Passan, Jon Bois, Rob Neyer, Boog Sciambi, Joe Posnanski, Craig Calcaterra, Jay Jaffe, Emma Span and Old Hoss Radbourn, all of whom have succeeded in life despite lacking Classical bylines, also wrote essays for the book. This excerpt is our own Josh Wilker's essay on Luis Tiant. If you'd like to buy "The Hall of Nearly Great," and you really should, you can do so here.

Carl Yastrzemski had heard cheers before. Just five years earlier, he’d led the Red Sox to a miracle pennant, setting his previously moribund home ballpark ablaze, but this new sound was different. Deeper, fuller, more intimate, more human, more alive. In 1972, Fenway Park turned into one gigantic heart, thumping out a pulse in the name of the gnomish, barrel-chested man at the center of the diamond.

Looie! Looie!

“I’ve never heard anything like that in my life,” Yaz said.

Though I was too young to notice the chant when it first took hold, it was still thundering at the beginning of my awareness of baseball and life. When I think of my childhood in the mid-1970s, I see myself at the end of our dirt driveway, a Red Sox cap on my head, a duct tape strike zone on the garage door forty feet away. I’m about to go into a pitching motion, and not just any pitching motion but the motion at the heart of that pulse and at the heart of my life.

***

The motion began in 1961, when Luis Tiant left Cuba for what he thought would be three months to pitch for a team in Mexico. While he was there, Fidel Castro banned Cuban citizens from traveling outside the country. If the 20-year-old pitcher returned home, he’d be barred from leaving. Tiant’s father, Luis Tiant, Sr., had been a star pitcher in the Cuban leagues and the Negro Leagues. He knew what it was like to feel the pulse of a baseball. He wrote to his son in Mexico and told him, in effect, to let go of everything except that baseball.

In America, Tiant’s first taste of his new world was saturated with the hatred that had robbed his father of the chance of pitching in the majors.

“I couldn’t speak very good English, but I understood racism,” Tiant said of his travels through southern bush league towns. “They treated me like a dog. I used to go back to my room every day and cry.”

Tiant kept a tight grip on the baseball, and within three years was making his major league debut for the Cleveland Indians against Whitey Ford in Yankee Stadium. Tiant blanked the reigning American League champions 3–0, striking out 11 batters.

“It was the best day of my life,” Tiant said years later. Just after the game, he was asked a question that dampened the elation: would his father hear about what he had done? Barred from contact with his family, Tiant could only hope the news might sift its way through Cuba’s closed borders.

He kept in touch with his father in a different way, through his work on the mound. His unorthodox approach, still not as pronounced as it would be in later years, nonetheless stood out from other pitchers.

“There is a definite stop on his motion before he releases the ball,” veteran third baseman Frank Malzone complained in 1965. “But the umpires aren’t calling it.” Malzone connected Tiant’s method with the famous hesitation pitch of Satchel Paige, but it was actually a reflection of Tiant’s bond with another Negro Leagues standout whose estimable success as a pitcher rested more fully on misdirection and guile. Armando Vasquez, a teammate of Luis Tiant, Sr., suggested the line between father and son in an interview in the 2007 documentary The Lost Son of Havana.

“He had a funny movement for a pitcher,” Vasquez said of the elder Tiant. “His hands were always moving. You’ve gotta watch him.”

In 1968 the son catapulted beyond his father and all but very few pitchers in baseball history, winning 21 games, posting a 1.60 ERA, and breaking the single-season record for fewest hits per nine innings, a record that had stood for 62 years and that at face value identified Tiant as, literally speaking, the most unhittable pitcher who had ever lived. During the season, Tiant was featured in a Sports Illustrated article that again connected his success with Satchel Paige:

The cigar-chomping 27-year-old is using a copy of Satchel Paige’s “hesitation pitch” that twists his body away from the plate and leaves his face looking skyward just before he throws. This delivery hides the ball from the batter until the instant it is released and has a psychological effect as well. Says one outfielder, “It has to be disturbing. Luis seems to be looking at the moon, and all of a sudden the pitch is by you.”

Though Tiant’s motion helped baffle batters, his success also leaned heavily on a blistering fastball. While pitching for the Twins in 1970, Tiant suffered a cracked shoulder blade that knocked him out for the remainder of the season, and when he returned the following year the hornet-like sting in his fastball had vanished. He was released by the Twins, then picked up and quickly released by the Braves.

The Boston Red Sox took a chance on the two-time castoff. After a stint in the minors, Tiant struggled through his worst Major League season, compiling a putrid 1–7 record, the kind of mark that tends to end careers. One moment Luis Tiant was throwing an unbeatable pitch. The next he was learning what it felt like to be on the wrong side of something seemingly unbeatable. All of the sudden the pitch is by you.

You can’t always just overpower life. You will be overpowered. Better to incorporate into your motion the inescapable tendency of existence toward defeat. Better to bob and sway, bend not break. According to Tiant, when he was teetering on the edge of baseball oblivion, he reinvented himself, becoming in effect an even more passionate disciple of his father.

“I have to do something to hide the ball better,” Tiant said of his preparations for the 1972 season. “I changed my delivery completely.”

It was the full flowering of the Luis Tiant motion, father and son, the motion that mimicked life itself, unpredictable, unforeseeable. Just when you think you have it figured out, it comes at you in a whole new way, leaving you flailing.

***

Life tends to come at you in new ways, leaving you flailing. For most of my life, I was a son. Now I’m a father. I find myself wondering what I should try to pass on to my son. Earlier this week, I fantasized that I could pass on the motion that long ago settled into the marrow of my bones like joy. This fantasy led to me resurrecting the long dormant ritual at the center of my childhood—mimicking Luis Tiant’s windup—which in turn led to me feeling as if I just staggered to shore after several hours on a storm-battered fishing boat. Hoping to reconnect with old joy, I ended up nearly vomiting all over the carpet.

I used to have a better connection to balance and abandon. I was first drawn to Tiant’s windup all these years ago because of its proximity to that primal childhood version of drunkenness, simply spinning, putting both arms straight out and twirling around and around until the whole Earth rocks and giggles. There was something about Tiant that was more connected than other players with primal childhood abandon. But to truly channel Tiant, you have to be both son and father, boy and man, and somehow bring balance to abandon. ***

Tiant’s miraculous resurrection with the Red Sox inspired the men who depended on him to speak as if trying to describe the indescribable. Carl Yastrzemski simply referred to Tiant as the “heart and soul” of the Red Sox. Dwight Evans said, “Unless you’ve played with him, you can’t understand what Luis means to a team.” But the man whose livelihood relied most squarely on wins and losses depicted Tiant in the starkest terms.

“If a man put a gun to my head,” manager Darrell Johnson said, “and said I’m going to pull the trigger if you lose this game, I’d want Luis Tiant to pitch that game.”

Johnson’s statement has all the markings of a “gut feeling” that, upon closer inspection, is found to be based on illusions. However, Tiant does seem to have

had a knack for pitching in crucial games as if lives depended on it. Consider:

17–3, 175 2/3 IP, 2.36 ERA, 1.05 WHIP

Tiant authored this line over the course of 23 “gun-to-the-head” games with Boston, including postseason games and any September and October regular season starts that occurred during a season in which the Red Sox finished within 2-1/2 games of first place. In these games, Tiant, often working on short rest, was virtually unbeatable. He kept this up all the way through his final Red Sox start, the 162nd game of the 1978 season, which the Red Sox needed to win to force a one-game playoff the next day.

“If we lose today,” Tiant vowed, “it will be over my dead body.” He threw a 2-hit shutout.

***

You have to balance abandon. You have to kick and pivot and look in every direction, even straight up at the sky. You have to sway like you’re a conduit for music with a mournful hesitating heartache backbeat. You have to make the whole Earth rock and giggle and yet also land on solid ground, everything still. You have to tattoo the slimmest border of the strike zone with your pitch, the deepest pulse passing from father to son like holiness untouchable.

You have to deliver your whole life.


Share |

Comments

Many thanks for the exciting blog posting! Simply put your blog post to my favorite blog list and will look forward for additional updates. Simply wanted to write down a word in order to say thanks to you for those wonderful tips. Clinic online

Don’t forget to proofread the postcard after completion as mistakes can be costly in the long run. Images can greatly enhance the effect made by a postcard. cheap inspirational postcard

Your client information is not put away and the convention utilized is extremely secure. auto followers instagram gratis | instagram marketing

The ends of the week are additionally great circumstances to post. auto followers instagram gratis | instagram marketing

had been a star pitcher in the Cuban leagues and the Negro Leagues. He knew what it was like to feel the pulse of a baseball. He wrote to his son in Mexico and told him, in effect, to let go of everything except that baseball.how to become a ny notary public

"Boredom is a killer—which is why a cure for boredom can be a lifesaver.

The truth is, portable Bluetooth speakers have been the handheld solution to elevate the moment, whether at the beach, the middle of a party, or a lazy afternoon at home for years now—and your brand can get in on that excitement.

Right now—with C2BPromo.com, you can put you logo on a wide array of Promotional Bluetooth Speakers, in all different shapes and sizes, from waterproof to resilient wood—with models coming in at 6-7 dollars all the way up to high-end luxury designs. Multiple surfaces on almost every customized Bluetooth speaker can showcase your logo—so no matter which way it’s turned, your name is always center staged." Branded Bluetooth Speaker

I'm happy to see the immense subtle element here!. cheap designer shirts for men

had been a star pitcher in the Cuban leagues and the Negro Leagues. He knew what it was like to feel the pulse of a baseball. He wrote to his son in Mexico and told him, in effect, to let go of everything except that baseball.chess sets for schools

I’m excited to uncover this page. I need to to thank you for ones time for this particularly fantastic read!! I definitely really liked every part of it and i also have you saved to fav to look at new information in your site. womens designer handbags sale

As the power of PageRank is getting lower, flow metrics matter. Google gives a huge importance to metrics like domain authority, trust flow or citation flow as a ranking factor. trust flow

As the power of PageRank is getting lower, flow metrics matter. Google gives a huge importance to metrics like domain authority, trust flow or citation flow as a ranking factor. high trust flow backlinks

They are designed to contour your body and reduce the tissue to take off inches in targeted areas such as your waist, hips, buttocks, thighs, and even cellulite bikinibodyguides.com/kayla-itsines-review

Tiant kept a tight grip on the baseball, and within three years was making his major league debut for the Cleveland Indians against Whitey Ford in Yankee Stadium. Tiant blanked the reigning American League champions 3–0, striking out 11 batters.fast charging

I see myself at the end of our dirt driveway, a Red Sox cap on my head, a duct tape strike zone on the garage door forty feet away. I’m about to go into a pitching motion, and not just any pitching motion but the motion at the heart of that pulse and at the heart of my life.sitio web

had been a star pitcher in the Cuban leagues and the Negro Leagues. He knew what it was like to feel the pulse of a baseball. He wrote to his son in Mexico and told him, in effect, to let go of everything except that baseball.managed account trading

the garage door forty feet away. I’m about to go into a pitching motion, and not just any pitching motion but the motion at the heart of that pulse and at the heart of my life.uninassau

I’m about to go into a pitching motion, and not just any pitching motion but the motion at the heart of that pulse and at the heart of my life.
minecraft p e gratis |
free psn codes

It has become a ways extra than a den of selfies and smiling hamsters, it has turn out to be a manner to boom sales to your enterprise. As of mid-2014 Starbucks and Nike has posted over 14 million Instagram pics mixed! instagram likes kaufen

An entrancing examination is worth remark. I surmise that it is best to compose additional on this matter, it won't be a forbidden theme however for the most part individuals are insufficient to chat on such points. To the following. Here's to you Basement Waterproofing in New Jersey

This helps people get interested faster inyour color brochures since they already know a lot about it just by the high quality image. cheap postcard prints

You testament see every tourist you can get.Predictable net web sites or pages live on definitely to assist one way linkbackback link. DA domains in bulk | Web marketing

I have perused your article, it is exceptionally instructive and supportive for me.I appreciate the profitable data you offer in your articles. A debt of gratitude is in order for posting it.. tint for cars

I conceive feeling to have the accumulation that you are card. elderly care in tomball

i was simply scanning along and happened upon your site. simply needed to say great site and this article truly helped me. judi poker

This web journal site is really cool! How was it made ! healthypair.net

I have been getting a lot of useful and informative material in your website. domino q

I went over this site and I trust you have a considerable measure of brilliant data, spared to my bookmarks Zum Testsieger

Howdy dudes! Wonderful stuff protects it up. medeco dealer

Fabulous web journal! Do you have any tips and clues for trying essayists? I'm wanting to begin my own particular site soon however I'm somewhat lost on everything. Would you propose beginning with a free stage like WordPress or go for a paid alternative? There are such a large number of choices out there that I'm totally overpowered .. Any proposals? Much obliged! sati

Howdy! Pleasant post! If it's not too much trouble let us know when I will see a postliminary! Kaya Health Clubs

Great webpage brother I am gona inform this to all my friends and contacts. porn cccam server

Great article you have shared. it's unique and i am so impressed to read this. it's useful for us,and i am already a subscriber on your website.. latest trend

The decision taken by the Footlight Players for organizing a holiday program for all the players.2015 honda odyssey car covers

The software can easily be installed on your computer, tablet or smartphone, after which you can enjoy watching the movies and TV shows directly. popcorn flix

The data you have posted is exceptionally helpful. The destinations you have alluded was great. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing.. roulette

It is really alpha for you to create backlinks to your website. corporate seo packages

Incredible posting this is from you. I am really and truly thrilled to read this marvelous post. You've really impressed me today. I hope you'll continue to do so! Cleaner Brooklyn

Nokia laptop Suite has now not been up to date for some time, and became changed by means of Nokia's next generation telephone suite software,[3] Nokia Suite, which supported different platforms similarly to home windows download serial number generators

It would be ideal if you let me know in case you're searching for an article essayist for your site. You have some truly incredible posts and I feel I would be a decent resource. On the off chance that you ever need to take a portion of the heap off, I'd totally love to compose some material for your website in return for a connection back to mine. It would be ideal if you send me an email if intrigued. Much obliged to you! percuma rm20 slot online no deposit 2017

Howdy! A debt of gratitude is in order for the immense data you havr gave! You have touched on crucuial focuses! lebanon escorts

I like viewing web sites which comprehend the price of delivering the excellent useful resource free of charge. I truly adored reading your posting. Thank you!
​live tv free online

Very useful post. This is my first time i visit here. I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion. Really its great article. Keep it up. top auto and home insurance companies

Great post full of useful tips! My site is fairly new and I am also having a hard time getting my readers to leave comments. Analytics shows they are coming to the site but I have a feeling nobody wants to be first. good linkedin summary

Containing vast informative sources and full lists including influential gambling networks, the service will give you much of comfort at browsing for your own set of interest that you might want to locate. Click here

I like viewing web sites which comprehend the price of delivering the excellent useful resource free of charge. I truly adored reading your posting. Thank you!
Microsoft resume templates

I like viewing web sites which comprehend the price of delivering the excellent useful resource free of charge. I truly adored reading your posting. Thank you!
Microsoft resume templates

Much obliged, that was a truly cool read! escorts in beirut

Great post full of useful tips! My site is fairly new and I am also having a hard time getting my readers to leave comments. Analytics shows they are coming to the site but I have a feeling “nobody wants to be first”.
exfoliating

I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.
شركة تنظيف بالرياض

Many thanks for the exciting blog posting! Simply put your blog post to my favorite blog list and will look forward for additional updates. Simply wanted to write down a word in order to say thanks to you for those wonderful tips.
علاج الادمان