Me and El Tiante
I got to mingle with Red Sox royalty on Tuesday:
The legendary Luis Tiant.
For the second year in a row, the BoSox Club – the official fan club of the Boston Red Sox – invited me to serve as master of ceremonies at one of the eight luncheons that they hold during the season (click here for the schedule).
The featured guests at the Westin Waltham included Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Alan Ashby, Jays’ 1B/DH Randy Ruiz, Red Sox outfielder Darnell McDonald and the great El Tiante.
This is the 35th anniversary of the Red Sox 1975 World Series team and that Fall Classic featured Tiant at the height of his powers.
Facing the Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” lineup of Rose, Morgan, Bench, and Perez, Tiant started all three games that Boston won in the ’75 Fall Classic.
In Game 1, Tiant pitched a 5-hit shutout in a 6-0 win.
In Game 4, Luis threw 163 pitches and went the distance again in a 5-4 victory.
In Game 6, he pitched into the 8th inning and the Red Sox eventually won 7-6 in 12 innings on Carlton Fisk’s famous home run.
At Tuesday’s luncheon, I asked Tiant if it felt like his arm was going to fall off at the time.
“My arm? No. Maybe the rest of my body,” Tiant said with a laugh. “That World Series was the greatest thing that ever happened to me because my mom and dad were there from Cuba. It was the only World Series that I played in during my 19 years in the big leagues. The fans really cheered for me, ‘Looie, Looie, Looie,’ and I gave it my best. I thank God for giving me the ability to come through in those games. I didn’t get tired because that’s where I always wanted to be. Even though we lost, I think it was a great World Series – maybe one of the best. I think if we would have had Jim Rice it could have been a little different. It really was a great moment in my baseball career.’
I distinctly remember watching that World Series on TV and marveling at Tiant’s crazy corkscrew delivery. The great baseball writer Roger Angell broke it down into six stages in his book “Five Seasons.”
1) Call the Osteopath: In midpitch the man suffers an agonizing seizure in the central cervical region, which he attempts to fight off with a sharp backward twist of the head.
2) Out of the Woodshed: Just before releasing the ball he steps over a raised sill and simultaneously ducks his head to avoid conking it on the low doorframe.
3) The Runaway Taxi: Before the pivot, he sees a vehicle bearing down on him at top speed, and pulls back his entire upper body just in time to avoid a nasty accident.
4) Falling Off the Fence: An attack of vertigo nearly causes him to topple over backward on the mound. Strongly suggests a careless dude on the top rung of the corral.
5) The Slipper-Kick: In midpitch, he surprisingly decides to get rid of his left shoe.
6) The Low-Flying Plane (a subtle development and amalgam of 1, 3, and 4. above): While he is pivoting, an F-I05 buzzes the ball park, passing over the infield from the third-base to the first-base side at a height of eight feet. He follows it all the way with his eyes.
At the BoSox Club luncheon, I asked Tiant where he came up with his bizarre pitching motion.
“I was pitching for Boston in 1972 against Cleveland,” Tiant said. “It was about the 4th inning and when I got to two strikes on the batter I decided to try something different. So I spun and I looked into center field . . . then I looked into the stands . . . and when I finally threw the ball, I could see that the batters eyes got THIS BIG as he moved away from home plate and I threw the pitch for strike three. He asked Fisk, ‘What’s the matter with him – what was that?” and Carlton said, ‘That’s a new pitch.’ It really worked for me because from that point on I won 172 games. People try to say that you have to look at the mitt – well, that didn’t work for me. The most important part of pitching is the point of release – I don’t care what you do before that. I practiced and practiced to be able to throw like that and that’s how I was able to do it for all of those years. I looked toward center field . . . I looked at the girls . . . I looked up and down . . . and then I said, ‘OK, let me get this guy out.’ Hey, it worked for me.”
It certainly did. Tiant finished his career with 229 wins – more than Hall of Famers Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale, and Bob Lemon.
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It was also fun to catch up with Darnell McDonald who wanted a complete rundown on how his former Pawtucket teammates were doing.
(photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
The 31-year-old outfielder got a huge round of applause from the fan club members in attendance and said he has a greater appreciation for all of the attention he has received over the last few weeks after toiling in the minor leagues for the last 12 years.
“If I was 21 or 22, I probably wouldn’t have the same appreciation that I have now,” McDonald said. “Playing a lot of games in the minor leagues has helped me appreciate this time and it feels better to be able to have some success after going through the things that I’ve been through. To get so many texts messages from the guys that I’ve played with that know the grind, and the struggle, and the bus rides means a lot. Everybody that plays in the minor leagues wants to be in the big leagues and it’s been a great experience.”
It’s been good for Darnell and the Red Sox. Boston is 13-7 in the 20 games that McDonald has played in for far.
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Adam Mills pitched a gem on Tuesday night at McCoy Stadium, tossing 7 innings without allowing an earned run in a 5-1 win over Gwinnett. Aaron Bates and Dusty Brown belted 2-run homers, and Josh Reddick added an RBI single.
The PawSox will try to equal their longest winning streak of the year at two in a row on Wednesday when they host the Braves at 6:15.
I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:00 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.
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