Archive for the ‘Luis Tiant (Bos.)’ Category

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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.

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Luis Tiant

October 5, 2011

Last Wednesday, my wife and I took our son to the doctor for his two-month checkup. Two months seems too insubstantial. Parents of older children tell me to enjoy every moment because “it goes by so fast,” but I find myself yearning for a quicker passage of time so that the boy can stack up the days and weeks and months and become more and more fully and safely here. I don’t know how to explain that feeling (or feelings in general) except in baseball card terms. Most players, like most things, come and go with very little trace or even no trace at all, but certain cards, such as this 1979 Luis Tiant, seem to be invincible, despite their inherent flimsiness, and it has to do with all the many seasons on the back of the card anchoring the player into place as a star, a bright constant in an ever-shifting world.

At the doctor, my son got two shots, one in each leg, to protect him from several diseases. When we got home his legs began to swell up, and he started screaming. We couldn’t find any way to help him. Finally, around dusk, we put him in a stroller and went to the drug store to get some baby Tylenol. The walk seemed to distract him a little, and the screaming tapered off to little grunts and groans. When we got to the store I stayed outside and rolled the stroller up and down a patch of sidewalk while my wife went in to buy the pain-killer. The store is in an area where there are some sketchy characters, and on the way out of the store my wife was harassed by a pack of them.

“Fuck you,” my wife shouted over her shoulder at them.

“What’d they say?” I asked.

“Whatever,” she muttered and started leading the way back toward home, where our son would start screaming again. She held the Tylenol, and I pushed the stroller containing our suffering baby away from the pack of harassers, salving my feelings of powerlessness with fantasies of violent revenge.

***

This is Luis Tiant’s last card with the Red Sox. He left the Red Sox a little over a month after a one-game playoff defeat ended the team’s 1978 season. Players on the Red Sox lamented that the heart of the team was gone, and the team’s immediate plummet into uninspired mediocrity bore those claims out. I was only 11, but I didn’t blame Tiant for leaving. I don’t think other fans did, either, even though he went to the Yankees; the general feeling about the exodus of many players from the star-studded 1970s team was that the incompetency and cheapness of the front office was to blame, not the players. This last card of him as a Red Sox player seems fitting to me, a quiet, almost meditative shot of him doing what he did as well as any player ever has: connecting with a fan. We want to feel solid and capable and powerful. We need that connection.

***

I am fairly certain that I would lose to almost everyone on earth if ever pitted against them in a fight, so it was difficult for me to come up with realistic fantasies in which I was able to run up toward the street-hardened harassers of my wife and cause them all grave pain. I decided I’d have to rely on a lot of surprise groin-kicks, as many as I could fit in before their superior strength, fighting skills, and generalized rage at the unjust world kicked in and left me fractured and bleeding on the sidewalk (at best). Really what I needed, I reasoned while pushing my baby home, was a large and powerful weapon, not a gun but some kind of industrial-strength many-barreled taser capable of subduing with agonizing force several members of a gang of harassers, but even armed with that in my fantasy I saw myself somehow fumbling my grip on the weapon and having it used against me in horrible ways. Finally I surrendered to that old standby of my life and of the impotent and powerless everywhere: the impossible fantasy of having super-strength. Oh, they would laugh and heckle as I approached in my glasses and my drab middle-aged ectomorphic garments, but then wham and ca-crush and b-doouuzzzh and bodies flying everywhere, jaws cracking, eye sockets caving in. Oh, the weeping and begging. Oh, my great and awesome power! Fear me!

“What’s the matter with you?” my wife asked as we neared the entrance to our building. I guess I had a look on my face.

It was a rough night with the baby, but not as bad as the day had been, and finally he settled into a shallow sleep. I was free to follow the progress of game 162 of the 2011 baseball season. I have nothing to say about that game, but the departure the following day of Terry Francona from the Red Sox reminds me a little of Luis Tiant’s in the fall of 1978, just after the end of a Red Sox collapse that until the night of baby Tylenol and groin-kick fantasies was inarguably the worst regular season flop in franchise history. That 1978 team, like all 86 yearly editions of the Red Sox that had failed to win the World Series from 1919 to 2003, was redeemed in 2004, thanks in considerable part to the leadership of Terry Francona. Once the Red Sox finally won the World Series, everyone who had ever played for the Red Sox got to ride in the victory parade (figuratively if not literally), which to a lifelong fan was supremely gratifying. It helped give me back my childhood, the sheer fun of rooting for Lynn and Rice and Yaz and that warm ancient wizard, Luis Tiant, of believing he was going to lead them all the way. Until 2004, I avoided my summery childhood memories because they were tangled in a slanting October twilight that made all the players from the 1970s team seem forever doomed to fail, and since my identification with them was so deeply rooted and intimate—they were the projections of my deepest wishes in the world—I felt forever doomed to fail, too. Terry Francona was the leader of the team that lifted that burden. I will always be grateful to him. Fan is short for fanatic but it might as well be short for fantasy. In being a fan we hope to become more powerful, more victorious, than we are in real life. Amazing that sometimes it actually turns out to really feel that way. It certainly didn’t last Wednesday night for me, and the next day Terry Francona was no longer the manager of the Red Sox, but two times in my life I really did have super-strength, and both of those times Terry Francona presided.

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Luis Tiant (Indians-Red Sox Game 7 Chat)

October 21, 2007
 

 
If you were able to resurrect anyone in his prime from the history of your favorite team to pitch the seventh game of a playoff series, whom would you choose? The Red Sox have a lot of worthy candidates, including the two current roster members who have enabled the Red Sox to climb out of a 3 games to 1 hole against the Cleveland Indians and force the all or nothing deciding game tonight (FOX; 8:23 ET). Both of these men, already October legends, turned in impressive performances, the smirkingly confident Beckett simply wrecking the Indians with blazing fastballs and darting curves, and the aging, top-heavy Schilling, who looked throughout the game like a long-sedentary office worker who’d just been forced by an elevator malfunction to take five flights of stairs, somehow keeping the Indians at bay with his assortment of batting practice heaves.

I’d be happy if either one of these able fellows could somehow take the mound tonight on full rest (Beckett does indeed appear ready to pitch in relief), but they wouldn’t be my first choice if I could reach back into history for anyone. They’d have a lot of good company among the pitchers passed over for the job, including:

Cy Young. The winner of all imagined conversations in pitching heaven, e.g.: “Wow, that is a lot of Cy Young awards you’ve got there. No doubt about it. Hm? What’s that? What’s my name? Why don’t you ask one of your little trophies. You know, on your way to getting your shinebox.”

Smokey Joe Wood. His 1912 season was one of the greatest ever. Also the possessor of the coolest name for a pitcher ever, with the possible exception of Blue Moon Odom. Incidentally, he is a member of the all-time team of Red Sox-Indians; after arm trouble killed his pitching career he made a comeback as a part-time outfielder with the Cleveland Indians, helping them win the 1920 World Series.

Babe Ruth. Really tough not to pick the Babe, who for many years held the record for most consecutive shutout innings in World Series play; plus, of course, he could bat and let the DH David Ortiz hit for Julio Lugo (by the way, has the DH ever been used for anybody but the pitcher?)

Roger Clemens. The numbers in context point to him as quite possibly the author of the greatest regular season pitching career of all time, and if he were on the mound tonight for the Red Sox, in his prime, I wouldn’t complain, but I’d also be a little worried about an overpumped bat-throwing ump-berating meltdown.

Pedro Martinez. The dominant, fearless maestro. When Clemens was at his peak for the Red Sox I was gratefully aware that we had one of the best pitchers in the game; when Pedro was at his peak for the Red Sox I often found myself wondering if we had the best pitcher who ever lived.

But if I could pick one player from Red Sox history to pitch tonight’s game, I’d follow the thinking of former Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson, who once said, “If a man put a gun to my head and said I’m going to pull the trigger if you lose this game, I’d want Luis Tiant to pitch that game.”

Luis Tiant came through in many a big game for the Red Sox, and I believe he should be in the Hall of Fame. But those are not the sole reasons for my choice. Part of the reason has to do with the element of resurrection in his career. After breaking in with the Cleveland Indians, where he authored a season for the ages in 1968, Tiant appeared done as a pitcher in the early 1970s. These terse lines from the transaction section of his page on Baseball Reference.com tell the story:

March 31, 1971: Released by the Minnesota Twins.
April 16, 1971: Signed as a Free Agent with the Atlanta Braves.
May 15, 1971: Released by the Atlanta Braves.

Picked up, dumped, picked up again, dumped again. The Red Sox took a chance on him and to their credit stuck with him throughout 1971 as he compiled a putrid 1 and 7 record. The following season he turned things around, and for most of the rest of the decade he was once again among the best pitchers on the globe. He had been finished, a Hefty bag left on the curb, but he came all the way back, resurrected.

But the theme of resurrection isn’t, in the end, the deciding factor for me, though it feeds into it. Here’s the main reason I’d give the ball to Luis Tiant:

Joy.

Luis Tiant not only dominated in big games, he entertained, he enchanted, he enthralled. He toyed with batters with his wide assortment of bedeviling pitches and his looping corkscrew windup (the most imitated big league gyration of my childhood), and in doing so and by the sheer magnetism of his ebullient personality he played the entire packed house at Fenway like it was the world’s biggest and loudest musical instrument, a thumping, chanting, cheering organ of hope and celebration.

If you’re going to play a game seven, you might as well win, and if you’re going to win, you might as well enjoy it. So here’s hoping that the spirit of El Tiante can somehow flow into the corkscrew windup and the wide assortment of pitches of the actual starting pitcher for tonight’s game, Daisuke Matsuzaka, whose season to date has been a little like the first two acts of Luis Tiant’s career, great promise followed by a seemingly unstoppable demise. 

Here’s hoping that now is the perfect time for Act Three. 

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The lineups (courtesy of Amelie Benjamin’s Boson Globe blog):

Indians

1. Grady Sizemore, CF
2. Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B
3. Travis Hafner, DH
4. Victor Martinez, C
5. Ryan Garko, 1B
6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
7. Kenny Lofton, LF
8. Franklin Gutierrez, RF
9. Casey Blake, 3B

SP – Jake Westbrook

Red Sox

1. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
2. Kevin Youkilis, 1B
3. David Ortiz, DH
4. Manny Ramirez, LF
5. Mike Lowell, 3B
6. J.D. Drew, RF
7. Jason Varitek, C
8. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
9. Julio Lugo, SS

SP – Daisuke Matsuzaka

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