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Luis Tiant

June 12, 2012

I spent some time recently writing an essay on Luis Tiant for a forthcoming compilation. It was impossible. I always feel like I fail whenever I try to write about something I really love. There is too much to say, so whatever ends up getting onto the page feels like a reduction, a diminishment, a mistake.

I have to balance my writing—well, balance is the wrong word. I have to jam my writing life into the rest of my life, going to and from work, working at a job where I am responsible for locating and correcting mistakes, looking after my baby, a wobbly lurching being who makes me want to maim myself when I make a mistake and allow him to fall down and bang his head. I try to allow the writing to be the one place where mistakes are okay. That is why I’m writing right now, beyond the end of my work on the Luis Tiant essay. By the way, I just misspelled Tiant and went back and corrected it, so I’m full of shit on my open invitation for mistakes and some kind of unreachable freedom. The way I keep misspelling Tiant is Taint, which is kind of funny. Taint is kind of like a mistake, meaning a flaw in something. Also it means the part between your asshole and your genitals, which I learned, perhaps erroneously, derives from the idea that it “t’aint one thing and t’aint the other.” My life is spent in the taint, not quite here and not quite there but definitely somewhere sort of malodorous and dank.

Now, what was I trying to say? Oh yeah, love and impossible words. Tiant: I will never say everything I want to about him, but I did want to point out that this button contains a taint, not just the badly centered name and team box near the bottom but, of course, the misspelling of the team name: “Red Soxs.” How the fuck did this occur? It makes me wonder who pumped out these buttons.

The photo is from just a little before the dawn of my fandom, as I only remember Luis Tiant when he had his fu manchu. He was the first to sport the fu Manchu, wasn’t he? He doesn’t get enough credit for this.

I remember going to Fenway Park as a kid. He ruled that place, in some ways even more than Yaz. I’ve written about Yaz, and about seeing the green of Fenway Park for the first time. I never have gotten it all down in words though. For example, I was in bliss even walking to the park. There would be souvenir stands selling shit like this, painters caps and pennants and buttons with the faces of players on them. Everything was shining in the lights. This was to me as a verdant heath was to Wordsworth or something. But I can’t tell you about it. I mean I can’t find the right words. I can only make one mistake after another.

That was one of my failed plans for the Tiant essay I just finished, that it would be organized around the Zen notion of shoshaku joshaku, first coined by Japanese master Dogen and brought to my attention years ago in the book Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. The phrase means “one continuous mistake.” I wanted to describe Luis Tiant’s unorthodox and unforgettable pitching delivery in those terms, everything about it wrong but somehow beautiful and more than that somehow, hitches and pauses and twitches and all, continuous, and his career, too, with his exile and his injuries and his releases and his comebacks, one continuous motion, too, Tiant untainted by surrendering to the life of one continuous mistake, the mistakes not the point of this all but rather the will to continue. This was the point of these words, and all my words, and all my mistakes: continue.

6 comments

  1. Nice job! I noticed that “SOXS” thing as soon as I saw it. I wasn’t quite sure that I was seeing what I THOUGHT I was seeing, so I enlarged the computer screen to make sure I was seeing it correctly. (You know what I mean; I pressed the “Control” key and the + (plus) key at the same time. Sure enough, it was mispelled. Er, I mean misspelled.

    It’s funny, but when I first saw the misspelling, I thought of Louis Sockalexis.

    There’s one thing I want to ask you about, and that is this: Why did the White Sox and the Red Sox spell their names that way? I’ve been trying to find out why, but I can’t find any mention of it on the internet. Was “sox” a common slang spelling of “socks” back in the days when both “sox” teams were named? I Do notice that, in old newspaper ads that I’ve seen, it appears that using the term “To-Nite” instead of “Tonight” was quite common in the early 20th Century and before. Maybe it was a similar thing for “sox” and “socks”.

    I liked the last part the best: “I wanted to describe Luis Tiant’s unorthodox and unforgettable pitching delivery in those terms, everything about it wrong but somehow beautiful and more than that somehow, hitches and pauses and twitches and all, continuous, and his career, too, with his exile and his injuries and his releases and his comebacks, one continuous motion, too, Tiant untainted by surrendering to the life of one continuous mistake, the mistakes not the point of this all but rather the will to continue. This was the point of these words, and all my words, and all my mistakes: continue.”

    Man, can you flat out WRITE, Josh!

    One more thought. If ANY players were going to have their names mistakenly spelled as “Taint”, shouldn’t it be Mark McGuire (er, McGwire) or Barry Bonds and the rest of their steroid-swigging ilk?


  2. The first game my dad ever took me to at Fenway was Red Sox vs. Orioles in 1973. The starters were Luis Tiant and Jim Palmer. Overall, the game featured five future Hall of Famers. After nine innings, the game was tied 1-1 and went to extras. The Red Sox won on a walk-off home run by Ben Oglivie in the 12th inning. The remarkable stat from that game (at least remarkable by today’s standards) is that both Tiant and Palmer threw 12 inning complete games.


  3. AJW, I think that two pitchers going 12 innings in the same game was kind of remarkable even in 1973! I certainly don’t remember THAT kind of thing happening very much, even in THOSE days.


  4. In Roger Angell’s LATE INNINGS (I think it’s that collection, anyway), there’s a great description of Tiant showing up for spring training with the Yankees in 1979. When he pitched against the Red Sox in the Grapefruit League, he had a funny encounter with Jim Rice: when Tiant when through his usual machinations, Rice stepped out of the box and said something along the lines of, “C’mon, Louis, just throw the damn ball.”


  5. My friend and I used to imitate the Tiant delivery, pitching a tennis ball or spaldine. We are convinced that we both developed elbow problems because of this.


  6. Shickshinny: “Sox” was indeed a common spelling of “socks.” (It’s still in the dictionary, it’s a real word, it just doesn’t get used anymore unless you’re talking about baseball teams.) Look in old papers and you’ll see ads for silk sox, men’s sox, etc.

    As for the Red Soxs: Man, do I hate that one. I’ll see it on ebay sometimes when someone is selling one thing for each team, and it’s obvious they start with one team, then erase all but the S, and paste in each team name. Add “Red Sox” to the “-s” and you’ve got your Red Soxs. I’m sure it was some typesetting-equivalent error that caused this on the button.



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