Sunday, December 4, 2011
El Tiante gets another shot at Hall
By Gordon Edes
DALLAS -- Luis Tiant will be held up to history’s judgment again Monday, when the Hall of Fame’s “Golden Era” Committee will consider anew whether his career is worthy of inclusion in Cooperstown.
Tiant’s career was found wanting in the 15 years he was on the ballot in voting by eligible members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He received 30.9 percent of the votes in 1988, his first year of Hall eligibility, but never approached that figure again, receiving 18 percent of the vote in 2002, his last year on the ballot.
But now, Tiant, who turned 71 on Nov. 23, receives a fresh look as one of eight players and two executives named to the "Golden Era" ballot. Any candidate receiving 75 percent of the votes cast by the 16-member Golden Era committee will earn induction to the Hall. The 10 candidates were selected by the Historical Overview Committee that made its selections from managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players whose career impact was realized during the 1947-1972 time period.
Tiant doesn’t have any of the numbers that typically warrant automatic inclusion into the Hall, like 300 wins or 3,000 strikeouts. He was 229-172 with a 3.30 ERA in the course of his 19 seasons, and he struck out 2,416 batters.
But Red Sox historian Dick Bresciani, in a letter he sent to members of the voting committee, has highlighted some of Tiant’s remarkable achievements in the course of a 19-year career, eight seasons of which were spent with the Red Sox. That’s one more season than Pedro Martinez spent with the Red Sox (1998-2004).
Martinez announced this weekend his intentions to make his retirement official, and while he, too, lacks the counting numbers that voters expect of Hall inductees, his undisputed greatness when he was at the height of his powers beg for his inclusion at the Hall.
Bresciani makes a compelling case that the same should apply for Tiant, beginning with his 1968 season for the Cleveland Indians, when he posted a 1.60 ERA, lowest in the American League since 1919. Tiant went 21-9 that season, threw nine shutouts, held opposing hitters to a .168 average and allowed just 5.295 hits per nine innings, the second lowest average in major league history, behind Nolan Ryan’s 5.261 in 1972.
The 1968 season was known as the Year of the Pitcher, when the numbers were skewed dramatically in favor of the pitchers, leading MLB after the season to lower the mound. Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA in the National League that season, and Carl Yastrzemski won the American League batting title with a .301 average, the lowest average ever by a batting champion in either league.
The ERA in the AL that season was 2.98; Tiant’s ERA was 1.38 lower than the league average. In 2000, when Martinez’s ERA was a career-best 1.74, the league average ERA was 4.92, meaning Martinez’s ERA was a stunning 3.18 below the league average.
But Tiant’s greatness was not confined to a single season. In 1972, his second season with the Red Sox, he posted a 1.91 ERA, lowest by a Sox pitcher since the end of the deadball era in 1917. He is the only American League pitcher in the last 65 years to post two seasons with a sub-2 ERA.
Tiant won 20 or more games four times and ranked in the top six in Cy Young Award voting three times. He finished in the top 10 in strikeouts five times, was in the top nine in shutouts seven times, and was in the top eight in complete games six times.
Bresciani notes that with 49 career shutouts, Tiant has more career shutouts than 46 Hall of Famers. He threw three or more consecutive shutouts four times in his career, and only Hall of Famer Walter Johnson can match Tiant’s feat of two streaks of 40 or more consecutive scoreless innings.
Tiant’s 229 career wins, while well short of the 300-benchmark, are still more than 26 Hall of Famers. And just as Curt Schilling’s Hall candidacy will be boosted by his big-game reputation, especially in the postseason, Bresciani makes a similar argument for Tiant. In games he pitched in September and October, Tiant had a record of 57-25, a .675 percentage, with a 2.74 (compared to his overall career ERA of 3.30). That doesn’t include his epic work in the 1975 postseason, when he went 3-0 with a 2.65 ERA in four starts, three of those starts coming against the Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati Reds, one a complete-game shutout in Game 1, and a gallant, 163-pitch 5-4 survival in Game 4 that many consider among the grittiest games ever pitched.
And if style points were a consideration, Tiant would be a slam-dunk, his swiveling hips, back-to-the-hitter, herky-jerky motion and baffling array of pitches thrilling a generation of Sox fans who grew up to the sounds of “Loo-ee, Loo-ee.’’
The other names on the ballot: Buzzie Bavasi, Ken Boyer, Charlie Finley, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Allie Reynolds and Ron Santo.
The selection committee is comprised of Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Ralph Kiner, Tom Lasorda, Juan Marichal, Brooks Robinson, Don Sutton and Billy Williams, executives Paul Beeston, Bill DeWitt, Roland Hemond, Gene Michael and Al Rosen (retired) and veteran reporters Dick Kaegel, Jack O'Connell and Dave Van Dyck.