The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Archive for the tag “Luis Tiant”

Best Forgotten Seasons: Part 11 – The Cleveland Indians

Several professional pundits, as well a few proletarian bloggers,  have designated 2010 as The Year of the Pitcher.

After the homer-happy ’90’s, and even well into this decade, it is as if we have just emerged from a steroid-induced mass hallucination, where real-life Paul Bunyons swung bats the size of small trees, and pitchers, raised from birth in the shadow of aluminum bats and small ballparks, cowered in fear.

But, as the saying goes, everything is relative.  Certainly, pitching has reemerged as a significant force in Major League Baseball.  The depth and breadth of the current crop of young hurlers is stunning.  But obviously, this is not the first time pitching has dominated and defined our National Pastime.

The Gold Standard by which any subsequent Year of the Pitcher is measured is, of course, the 1968 season.

In 1968, the pitcher’s mound was as high as a small mountain, hitters were, on average, smaller than they are today, and pitchers could throw inside with impunity.

In 1968, the combined ERA of the entirety of Major League Baseball was 2.98.  Seven pitchers recorded ERA’s under 2.00.  Five of these pitchers were in the American League.

Over in the N.L., Bob Gibson of the Cardinals set a record for the lowest ERA in a season at 1.12.

Don Drysdale of the Dodgers, who did not have an ERA below 2.00 for the season, broke Walter Johnson’s 55-year old record for consecutive shut-out innings pitched with 58 (later eclipsed by another Dodger, Orel Hershiser.)

Of the five A.L. pitchers who recorded ERA’s below 2.00 in 1968, two pitched for one team, the Cleveland Indians.

Sam McDowell, a fearsome strikeout pitcher who at one point struck out 40 batters over a three game stretch, posted the second best ERA in the A.L., and the second best ERA on his staff, at 1.81.

So who recorded the lowest ERA in the A.L. in 1968?

A 27-year old, cigar smoking Cuban, whose father had pitched against barn-storming Major League and Negro League players in pre-Castro Cuba, Luis Tiant.

In 1959, when Luis Tiant was just nineteen-years old, Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba.  In 1961, Tiant came to America to become a Major League pitcher.  He planned on returning to Cuba the following year to see his family.  But the political situation in Cuba had worsened, and his father warned him not to come home, at least for a while.

Tiant’s exile lasted 46 years.

In 1964, Tiant made his Major League debut.  A decade later, his parents were finally allowed to come to America to see their son pitch.

1968 was Cleveland Indians’ pitcher Luis Tiant’s Best Forgotten Season.

The 1968 season was El Tiante’s fifth in the Major Leagues.  Previously, he had never won more than 12 games in a season.  But in ’68, Tiant’s talent and experience came together to produce a record of 21-9, a league-leading 1.60 ERA, 19 complete games, and a league-leading nine shutouts.

Tiant also surrendered an amazingly low 152 hits in 258 innings pitched.  His 5.3 hits per nine innings not only led the league, it is the second lowest mark ever recorded in Major League history.

Tiant also struck out 264 batters (third most in the league), against just 73 walks.  His ERA+ was a league best 186, and his WHIP was an astoundingly low 0.871.

So how does a pitcher with numbers like these not win the Cy Young Award?

Because he just happens to be pitching in the same league as Denny McLain.  McLain won 31 games against just six losses, posted an ERA of 1.96, and led the A.L. in starts (41), complete games (28!), and innings pitched (336.)

McLain not only won the Cy Young award, he was named A.L. MVP as well.

In other words, Tiant’s season, as great as it was, was just one of several outstanding pitching performances that season.

Later, of course, Tiant would enjoy great success pitching for the Boston Red Sox in the 1970’s, (1971-78.)  In fact, he would post yet another sub-2.00 ERA for the Sox in 1972, (1.91.)

El Tiante tallied three 20-win seasons for the Red Sox, and compiled a record of 122-81 while pitching for them.  In the 1975 World Series, he beat the Big Red Machine twice, his herky-jerky delivery, never quite facing home-plate, instantly making him a hero to a young generation of new baseball fans.

Most baseball fans remember Tiant’s Boston years.  But Tiant probably enjoyed his Best Forgotten Season in 1968 while pitching for the Cleveland Indians.

Should Luis Tiant be in the Hall of Fame?

His career win-loss record is 229-172 with a career ERA of  3.30.  According to baseball-reference.com, three of the six pitchers whose careers most resembled Tiant’s are in the Hall, including Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, and Don Drysdale.

If Tiant ever does get elected to the Hall of Fame, however, a case can certainly be made that his plaque should prominently display him wearing a cap with the Cleveland Indians logo prominently displayed on his head.

Meanwhile, Luis Tiant was finally allowed to return to Cuba in 2007 after an exile that lasted nearly half a century.  Now almost 70 years old, Tiant has come full circle.

The personal sacrifices he made to pursue his dream are beyond the comprehension of most Americans.  But his accomplishments while pitching in America demonstrate the tenacity of his spirit, and the triumph of his soul.

Underrated / Overrated: Baseball and Other Stuff

There is more to life than baseball.

Well, perhaps not.  But there are other things that fill up our day-to-day lives that, at one time or another, at least some people deem important.

Things such as the Punic Wars.  Or the T.V. show, “M.A.S.H.”  Or the Industrial Revolution.

Some of these events / people / movies / wars, etc.  have been underrated.  Some of them have been overrated.

Baseball, of course, has always featured its fair share of underrated players, managers and teams, and their overrated counterparts as well.

In this blog-post, I will combine my all-time (including contemporary) underrated and overrated people and topics regarding baseball, and some of everything else as well.  And I do mean everything.

Stay with me on this one, and I think you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Overrated:  “Field of Dreams.” This movie becomes increasingly unbearable to watch with each subsequent viewing.  It is basically an  exercise in Baby-Boomer self-indulgence masquerading as a lesson about “listening to your dreams.”  The overwrought Ray character (Kevin Costner vs. The Man) Stays True to Himself and reconnects with his estranged dad (even if he is just a ghost tromping around in a cornfield.)

Baseball is Spiritual!

And there’s something in there about kidnapping an African-American Civil Rights era writer (who ends up being O.K. in the end with having been kidnapped, of course) so that they can go to a baseball game together.

Baseball is Progressive!

Just, please, stop.

Underrated:  “Eight Men Out.” Every time I watch this film, I notice something subtle I hadn’t noticed the first time around.  Not as graceful as “The Natural,” but not as mawkish, either.  And, of course, this movie about the Black Sox Scandal has taken on added irony since Roger Clemens, who has a cameo in this film, has been embroiled in his own scandal as well.

Overrated:  B.J. Upton – No, he is not likely to ever become the superstar that baseball fans have been fantasizing about for around three years now.

Underrated:  Justin Upton – Yes, he is likely to become the superstar that many people thought his older brother, B.J., would become.

Overrated:  The Revolutionary War – Yeah, I know, it’s cool to be an independent nation and all, but the American colonies, over time, would probably have enjoyed an increasingly greater level of self-government vis-à-vis the Brits.  And we would have avoided the pointless War of 1812 as well.

Underrated:  The French and Indian War – If the French Army, in league with their Canadian trapper and Indian allies, had won this war, the inhabitants of the original English colonies would have eventually faced the choice of sailing back to England, or becoming subjects in the North American realm of King Louis’ French Empire.  There wouldn’t have been any Founding Fathers, Constitution, United States as Beacon of Liberty / Spread of Democracy Worldwide, etc.  Game. Set. Match.

Overrated:  Carl Yastrzemski – O.K., Red Sox fans, name your favorite Carl Yaz moment.  You can’t, can you?  Perhaps the single most boring superstar of all-time.

Underrated:  Luis Tiant – Although I rooted for the Big Red Machine in the ’75 Series (someone had to), I certainly did enjoy watching Tiant pitch against the Reds in that series.  What a character. Tiant’s dad, by the way, once pitched against a St. Louis Cardinals team barnstorming through pre-Castro Cuba.

Overrated:  John F. Kennedy / Ronald Reagan – Given the fact that St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, I probably shouldn’t point out that people of Irish ancestry routinely deify their heroes, whether they’re dead or not.  Bono, for example, has already surpassed James Joyce as the Emerald Isles wordiest artist-in-search-of-immortality.

Underrated:  Dwight D. Eisenhower – Supreme Allied Commander during WW II, two-term President of the United States, responsible for America’s interstate highway system, sent the 101st Airborne into Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce school integration, and warned us (presciently, as it turned out) about the dangers posed by the Military-Industrial Complex in his Farewell Address.

Overrated:  Derek Jeter – Not as a player, but given the sorry state of baseball’s “marketing” campaign, as the de facto “Face” of baseball.  Um, like it or not, yes he is.

Underrated:  Albert Pujols – Not as a player, but as a symbol of the Latino community’s continual, and unjustifiable, second-class status as Americans.  There is no reason why Pujols, the greatest player in the game today, should not be as recognizable to the average American as Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan, or (ahem) Tiger Woods.

Overrated:  Napoleon – One Word:  Waterloo

Underrated:  Alexander the Great – One Word:  Undefeated

Overrated:  David Wright – A very good baseball player, perhaps a future Hall-of-Famer.

Underrated:  Ryan Zimmerman – A very good baseball player, perhaps a future Hall-of-Famer.

Overrated:  “Tarzan and Jane” movies, 1950’s.  Their bodies were safely covered up like Mainers in the Summer, wary of that sudden, impending chill off the lake.

Underrated:  “Tarzan and Jane” movies, 1930’s.  In the heady days before Hollywood went off the deep end with its puritanical rating system, Jane is obviously, sumptuously nude while swimming in the water of an African river.  Good stuff.

Overrated:  A’s General Manager Billy Beane: Yes, I know, he always has a limited budget to work with.  But didn’t he give a huge contract extension to Eric (maybe I’ll play tomorrow) Chavez?  Like it or not, a G.M. still has to win something once in a while to stay credible.

Underrated:  Braves General Manager John Schuerholz: Does anyone remember the last time the Braves had a string of truly awful seasons?  You would have to go back to the late 1980’s, culminating in the 65-97 record of 1990.  That’s back when a country called the U.S.S.R. still existed.  Since 1991, the Braves have enjoyed 13 ninety-plus win seasons in 20 years.  In a football crazy region, with a medium-level payroll, Schuerholz usually (but not always) avoids big mistakes, gambles effectively, and promotes discipline and balance throughout the Braves system.

Overrated:  Classical Music – Before you snub your nose at me and laugh at my blue-collar, Bridgeport, CT, roots, let me tell you that, yes, over the years I have listened to, studied, and even purchased classical music, so I believe I do have a healthy appreciation of this art-form.  Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring” are some of my favorites.

But I also have no doubt that if an 18th century audience heard Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” in a live performance down the hall, they would have wet their collective bloomers in astonishment and excitement, and stampeded towards that remarkable sound.

Underrated:  Jazz Music – The purest and greatest of all American art-forms.  It is simply impossible to imagine America without Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Billie Holliday, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, or Miles Davis.  America without Jazz music would be like watching a film in a movie theater with the sound turned off; you could still enjoy the spectacle, and figure out the basic premise, but you’d miss the mood, tone, and soul of the film.

Overrated:  Roger Clemens – America loves the image of the lone Texas gunslinger riding into town, wrestling control of the situation through violence, or the threat of high-heat, and riding off mysteriously into the sunset.  Nolan Ryan may have been baseball’s original Clint Eastwood-Anti-Hero archetype, but Clemens played it to the hilt. Clemens, however, (even before the steroid scandal broke), more accurately fit the Shape-Shifter archetype.  The defining trait of this archetype is Uncertain Loyalties.  To whom was Clemens ever loyal?  He was more like a soldier-of-fortune.  Rooting for him was pointless.  He existed to fulfill his own ambitions.

Underrated:  Greg Maddux: He actually did all the things that a Western gunslinger is supposed to do, but he did them without the self-preening drama carefully orchestrated by Clemens.  During the 1990’s, in the Era of The Hitter, Maddux posted a period of seven consecutive years of ERA’s beyond comprehension.  From 1992-98, his annual ERA’s were as follows:  2.18, 2.36, 1.56, 1.63, 2.72 (Oh, My!), 2.20, and 2.22.  These are ERA’s right out of the Dead Ball Era.  Well, it’s just too bad he wasn’t much of a strikeout pitcher, because strikeouts are sexy.

Oh, really?  Maddux finished tenth all-time in career strikeouts with 3,371.  Who is just ahead of him in ninth place?  None other than Walter Johnson.

Maddux, by the way, also won 18 consecutive gold gloves.

Lastly, Maddux broke the immortal Cy Young’s record of 15 consecutive seasons of 15 or more wins, having reached that total in seventeen consecutive years.  Maybe the Cy Young award should be renamed the Greg Maddux award.

Oh, yeah, and one more thing.  Greg Maddux was born in San Angelo, Texas.

Overrated: T.V. Show, “M.A.S.H.” – For too many years, this preachy message-driven drivel (War is Bad!) was imposed on a Vietnam Era audience (although it uses the Korean War as its backdrop.)  It turns out that even in the face of an odious, unjust conflict, American boys (and a girl or two) could crack jokes, shower together, and drip sincerity between commercial breaks.  Who knew?  The way Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) looked during his nervous breakdown in the Final Episode was the way I felt through most of the other episodes I ever bothered to sit through.

Underrated: T.V. Show, “The Shield.” –  How do you survive and do the job that needs to be done when no one around you (including your boss) wants you to?  Hidden dangers, both from without and within, lurk everywhere.  There is enough betrayal, passion, cruelty and nobility in this show to make Shakespeare envious.  And beyond that, it was never predictable or dull.

Overrated:  Alfonso Soriano – Usually leads the league, or is among the league-leaders, in Outs Made.  Even during his best seasons, his baseball instincts have always been poor.  Now he is older and injury-prone.  Good luck, Cubbies!

Underrated:  Bobby Abreu – Eight 20 / 20 seasons (homers / steals). Eight seasons of at least 100 runs scored, and eight seasons of at least 100 RBI’s.  His career Adjusted OPS+ is 132, higher than Hall-of-Fame outfielders Roberto Clemente, Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Carl Yaz, Goose Goslin, and Jim Rice.

Overrated:  “300” – Plays like an S&M / Bondage primer masquerading as a modern, historical epic.  The Spartans, mind you, really did practice enforced homosexual relations within their ranks.  Perhaps this film isn’t such a stretch after all.

Underrated:  “Gladiator” – Russell Crowe’s best film.  Fantastic performances, excellent dramatic tension, great battle scenes.  “A people should know when they are conquered.”

Let’s leave it at that for today.  I hope you enjoyed this blog-post.  Agree / Disagree with any (all) of my underrated / overrated items?  Let me know.  Again, thanks for reading.

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