Tiant Discovered By Tribe, Legendary Worldwide In Baseball
By Vince Guerrieri
Bobby Avila’s contributions to Indians baseball are numerous. He won a batting title for the Indians in 1954, helping lead the team to what was then a record of 111 wins and the American League pennant.
But one of his contributions to the Tribe and to baseball is his discovery of a Cuban boy who took after his father, one of the great pitchers in Cuban baseball and the Negro Leagues in America – Luis Tiant.
El Tiante, as he came to be known, was signed by Avila to the Mexico City Tigers. Avila lobbied for him to Cleveland management, and the Indians bought his contract in 1961.
Tiant came up with the Indians in 1964, and in his debut at Yankee Stadium, struck out 11 in a 4-0 shutout against Whitey Ford. It’s the last time in Tribe history that a pitcher debuted with a shutout. Tiant was a shutdown pitcher for the Indians, leading the league in shutouts in 1965 with five and 1968 with nine – including four in a row.
Tiant’s high-water mark with the Tribe was in 1968, when he went 21-9, including 19 complete games, with a league-leading 1.60 ERA and 264 strikeouts. He was part of a rotation that included Sudden Sam McDowell and Sonny Siebert.
But a year later, his fortunes had reversed, and Tiant lost 20 games. He also holds the Tribe record for most home runs allowed in a game, with five that year. The Indians dealt him to Minnesota for Dean Chance, who went 9-8 in 1970, his only season in Cleveland, and Graig Nettles, who hit .250 in three years for the Indians before he was dealt to the Yankees, where he became a cornerstone for the Bronx Zoo teams of the 1970s.
Tiant was sidelined by injury in 1970, and released in 1971. He got on the comeback trail when the Braves signed him to their Triple-A team in Richmond, but ended up with the Red Sox. He won 22 games in 1973 and 20 in 1974. In 1975, he won 18 as the Red Sox won the pennant. He remains one of the most popular players in Red Sox history, and still lives in Massachusetts. Manager Darrell Johnson went so far as to say that if he needed one pitcher for a game if his life depended on it, it would be Luis Tiant.
In 1976, Tiant won 20 games for the last time in his career, going 21-12. He spent two years with the Yankees and one each with the Pirates and Angels before retiring after the 1982 season with a 229-172 career record.
In 2001, Tiant was named to the 100th anniversary top 100 Indians roster. He remains seventh all-time in Indians history with a 2.70 ERA, 10th in strikeouts with 1,041 and ninth with 21 shutouts.
Photo: Cleveland Press