100 Greatest Indians: Luis Tiant
Fireballing right-hander turned into hometown darling
CLEVELAND -- The Baseball Almanac of 1965 said this about Indians pitcher Luis Tiant:
"Equipped with a slider, a good curve and his best pitch -- a fastball that really explodes -- the husky Cuban seems a sure bet for big league success."
Those words proved prophetic, because Tiant became a success as soon as he put on an Indians uniform. He arrived in the summer of '64, won 10 games and went on to put together the foundation of a 19-year career that included eight seasons with the Red Sox and two with the Yankees.
Tiant, the son and namesake of a legendary Negro League pitcher, put together a 75-64 record with 12 saves and a 2.84 ERA for some -- how do you put this politely -- ordinary Indians teams.
Inside those numbers were a couple of Cy Young-caliber seasons, particularly the 1968 season. He went 21-9 that year with a flashy 1.60 ERA, a statistic that led the American League. Tiant struck out 264 hitters in 258 1/3 innings.
But Tiant, whom fans in Cleveland lovingly called "El Tiante," was more than a pitcher. He was a performer. He dazzled fans and baffled hitters with a pitching motion as deceptive as any in the history of the game.
He was arms, elbows and legs. Hitters had as much trouble just seeing the ball as they did hitting it.
"I didn't do it for show," Tiant once said of his motion. "I did it to get batters out. Players would tell me, 'We can't tell where the ball is coming from.'"
Even if hitters could, what good would it have done them? Tiant was one of the finest pitchers to ever play for the Indians, though he also had a lot of success with Boston.
In all, he won 20 or more games four times and had 49 shutouts in his career, and it was that kind of excellence that earned Tiant selection to the list of "100 Greatest Indians." But his excellence was matched by his personality and dogged determination.
Those traits endeared him to fans and to his teammates.
"It was fun playing behind him," said Max Alvis, a third baseman on those Indians teams in the '60s. "He'd get on the rubber and throw in a hurry. Everybody was on their toes, because he was always around the plate. He had bulldog competitiveness."
He also was a winner.
Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.