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Mudville: June 22, 2024 7:44 am PDT

Luis Tiant – Un Juego Differente

"You don’t have to copy anybody else. You have to be yourself. ”


Luis Tiant loves baseball.

It’s why he left behind his parents thinking he may never see them again when he fled Cuba as a teenager in the 1950s and it’s why you can still find him at Fenway Park at 81 years old today.

It’s why his wife Maria sends him outside to decompress with a cigar when he gets too mad watching the games.

Like so many former players, it’s also why he’s not happy with the current state of affairs in the game.

Luis Tiant is ready to air his grievances in Part II of a special two-part Spitballin’.

Before we start, let’s make one thing clear. Tiant places the blame for the downturn of the game in many places, but the players aren’t necessarily one of them.

He’s not going to call pitchers soft for coming out of games after 85 pitches and he’s not going to lament the showmanship that we see today. In fact, the players are why he’s so vocal about what he believes is wrong.

Tiant sees a system that has failed the players. He has an empathetic stance on pitchers blowing out their elbows at an alarming rate before the age of 25. He makes it clear that he sees pitchers angry at coming out of games early in their body language and sometimes through lip reading. Most players want to play the game of yesteryear, the nerds just won’t let them.

Tiant knows what it means to risk it all as a young man to chase a dream and when that dream is derailed by a frayed UCL, Tiant can’t help but put himself in that player’s shoes and feel sorry that their dreams are put on hold.

He’s also the first to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers. He has some ideas, but like he has said multiple times, they are just his opinions, no better or worse than anyone else’s.

El Tiante has over 60 years in professional baseball. The man knows a thing or two. He knows what has worked for him and his contemporaries and he knows what he’s watching on a nightly basis.

Tiant has given his life to baseball and he’ll admit that baseball gave him everything in his life, too.

It’s a love affair that has gone sour though, so let’s see just what went wrong as we go Spitballin’ with Luis Tiant.

“The best pitchers have the heart, the balls and the brains. You can throw 100, but if you don’t have that, you won’t do shit.”

Thanks for joining us again, Mr. Tiant, let’s just get right back into it!  It was great hearing stories about your career and this week I’d like to talk with you about the state of baseball today. I saw it was just the anniversary of that legendary matchup you had against Nolan Ryan where you guys threw over 400 pitchers in one game. What was that game like for you?

Well, it was sad the way I lost that game. I pitched into the 15th inning and he came out a couple innings before. I threw 210 pitches. The game after that I pitched 10 innings and won 2-1. I pitched 25 complete games that year.

You always threw a lot of innings and complete games. (187 in your career) How come guys from your era were able to do that while today’s pitchers are treated more carefully, but have more injuries?

I think the more you throw, the stronger you are going to get. It’s like anything else. If you’re going to run, you have to train yourself. You’re like a racecar. You have to practice before you race. You have to test the car and see how it will take turns. Then in the race, you’re ready. Pitchers have to get in shape to throw a lot of pitches. You have to use your ability and use your brain when pitching. They’re not using their brain. All I hear is, “This guy throws 100!” Who cares? Can you do that and stay healthy? Are you trained for that? You have to use your brain when you’re pitching.

I know when you played you didn’t care about pitch counts, but what do you think of the way that has come into the sport in recent years?

Come on. You’re telling me if you throw 100 pitches you can’t throw 20 more? You’re not gonna get hurt. But that’s what they do now. I don’t like it. That’s why you get so many injuries. Guys don’t throw enough. We used to pitch every four days. We threw a lot. These guys pitch every fifth or sixth day. They pitch a few innings, then they wait five or six days and come back and pitch a few more innings. You have to throw. How are you gonna tell me you have a guy who throws eight shutout innings, but because he threw 100 pitches, you’re gonna take him out? Then the reliever comes in and blows the game. What kind of game is that? That’s a different game than I played.

Do you think the pitchers just had a different mindset when you played? They wanted to finish what they started.

It’s not the pitchers fault. They do what they’re told. They don’t let them pitch. You see it a lot. They get taken out of the game and they’re pissed. They want to stay, but they bring them out. That’s crazy. Let them pitch, let them throw. They give them all this rest. What for? That’s their job. They’re young people and they’re gonna tell me they’re tired? Tired of what?

What do you think of the way technology has come into the game?

The baseball I see is not the game I played. We went out and played the game. Now everything is about numbers and computers. The computer isn’t going to make you play better. A computer isn’t going to come out to the mound and make you pitch better. The computer might tell you that you have to pitch someone outside, but it’s up to you to do that. It has to be part of your body, your mentality, your ability. You are the one to throw the pitch. You have to command the pitch as best you can. You have to do it, not the computer. It’s a game for players, not computers.

You see it everywhere in the game, not just with pitching.

Yes. They move the infield around left and right and then the idiots hit the ball right where they play. You’re telling me you can’t hit the ball to left field? You can’t just bounce the ball over there and you’re a professional? How are you gonna let the pitcher strike you out five times in one game and you don’t change anything? How does that happen? I would be so mad. Do something to get yourself on base, even if you have to let the pitch hit you. But everything now is a home run or strike out. I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t like it. This is not the game I played. But, that’s the system now and we have to get used to it, because that’s what we’re going to see. There are too many stats and too many people in the game. They think they’re geniuses because of a computer. Computers are great for business and have changed life for everybody, but they haven’t made baseball better.

Overrated Dan Tiant

Danny Tiant, two-year-old son of Boston Red Sox players Luis Tiant, holds a ball during the annual Red Sox children's game at Fenway Park in Boston on June 27, 1976. (Photo by Frank O'Brien/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

In my opinion the level of play isn’t what it used to be either. I feel like I’m seeing a lot more mistakes and a lot less attention to fundamentals. Is that an area where you see change too?

Sure. A lot of these guys don’t belong in the Big Leagues. You know what the problem is? There’s too many teams. You want the best of the best. Now, there’s too many teams and they’re bringing up guys to fill in and they’re not ready to play in the Big Leagues. There used to be 14 teams and now there’s 30. You have 26 guys on a team. Where are all those extra guys coming from? There aren’t enough good players and pitchers. They might have velocity, but you don’t win in the Big Leagues with just velocity.

You need to know how to pitch and there are too many guys who don’t. Nolan Ryan threw 105 [when he was young], but he wasn’t a great pitcher. When he learned the breaking ball, that’s what made him a great pitcher. Batters had no chance. He learned how to pitch and then hitters didn’t want to be in there against him. Sam McDowell too. He threw as hard as Nolan Ryan. He had a good breaking ball. But when he pitched, he didn’t use his brain. He just threw hard. He was the best I’ve seen. That son of a bitch should have won 400 games with the stuff he had. He should have won 30 games a year. But I won more games than him because I learned how to pitch, not just throw.

Aside from throwing more, what other changes would you like in pitching on the Major League level?

They bring guys up just because they throw hard, but they don’t know how to pitch. Some of them don’t even know how to stand on the mound and then they try to throw 100 MPH, of course they’re gonna get hurt. They’re not using their body right. You can throw 95 and command pitches the best way you can and that is perfect. Throw the ball outside, inside, up and down. Make it sink, change speeds. Shit, they wouldn’t touch it. But they want to throw 100 MPH.

They don’t need all these pitches either. You don’t need six pitches. When Daisuke Matsusaka came here, they said he could command six pitches. That’s bullshit. Nobody is going to tell me they have six pitches they can command. Not even Pedro. That’s a lie. You get three pitches you can command for real and you can beat anyone. When a hitter is up, he can only be ready for one pitch. If you have a fastball, breaking ball and changeup, that’s all you need. Then you change speeds or sink it and locate them. If you’re looking for a fastball and they throw you a good change, you look like you never played baseball.

Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz gets a ride from Luis Tiant in a golf cart at the Red Sox Spring Training facility at Jet Blue Park on Wednesday, February 25, 2015. Staff Photo by Matt Stone (Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

Are pitchers pitching to batters differently than they did in years past from what you see?

These guys will have a hitter with two strikes then they go in their pocket and look at a card to see what to throw that pitch. Goddammit that should be something you know! You’re telling me you have to look at a card to see what type of pitch to throw? That sucks, but that’s what they do now. I don’t care what you tell me, that’s stupid and I’ll tell anyone that to their face. That stinks. The best pitchers have the heart, the balls and the brains. You can throw 100, but if you don’t have that, you won’t do shit. I watch every day and can’t believe it. I shake my head. Sometimes I’ll watch and my wife will kick me out of the house. She’ll say, “Go outside and smoke a cigar, go sit in your car, go for a walk. You’re gonna have a heart attack watching this!”

What changes would you like to see pitchers make?

I feel bad for some of these guys. They’re good kids and they’re doing what they’re told. Instead of 100 MPH down the middle, they should throw 95 on the black and nobody will touch them. Watch all these home runs, the pitches are usually right down the middle of the goddamned plate. Hanging curve balls, hanging sliders, 2-0 counts and they throw one right down the middle of the plate. What are you thinking? I feel bad because I know a lot of those pitchers; I know they want to do well. But you have to put your ability with the right mentality and that’s when you’ll be a good pitcher. You have to have the mentality to move the ball around.

Look, if you throw two fastballs to a guy and he’s late on them, why would you change that up? Now you want to throw a slider? Why? I would keep throwing that fastball until he shows me that he could hit my fastball. They don’t do that though. They think they’re too smart. There are a lot of guys that can throw 99 or 100 and they can’t get anyone out. How does that happen? Look at Greg Maddux. Look at Tom Glavine. They won 300 games. What did they do? They throw a little sinker, little slider, they moved the ball, they had command. They won the Cy Young and World Series and they’re in the Hall of Fame.

As a former player who has so much respect in the game, do you ever talk to players or teams about this stuff?

They don’t want to listen to me or anyone else. That’s fine with me. I did my job. I worked with the Red Sox and had the best job in my life. The Red Sox have been so great to me. They take care of me and do anything for me. I love them. They still do that for me. But I can’t go and tell them this or that because they wouldn’t listen. It’s a waste of time. That’s a shame.

Boston Red Sox franchise icon Luis Tiant listens as Yoan Moncada is introduced during a press conference at JetBlue Park in Ft. Myers, Florida on Friday, March 13, 2015. Staff photo by Christopher Evans (Photo by Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

What do you think about all the injuries that have been happening in today’s game?

You got strong guys walking around that look like Popeye, but they’re hurt all the time. You need elasticity in your body. Those guys are too tight and lift too many weights. You put too much pressure on a muscle and, boom, there it goes. You just have to keep that elasticity in your muscles. When I came into the Big Leagues in Cleveland, they didn’t let you lift weights. You could do everything else, but no weights. When I was in AAA, I had a five-pound ball and ten pound dumbbells. I went 15-1 and when I got up to the Big Leagues, they told me I couldn’t do it anymore. I said, “Fuck you, I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do. Don’t tell me that shit.” I went 15-1 and you’re gonna tell me what I’m doing wrong? The two months I was up, I went 10-4. I went 25-5 that year between AAA and the Big Leagues.

I don’t know why they let these guys hurt themselves so much. It’s sad. Everyone has Tommy John Surgery. How many are there gonna be? Every day, someone pulls a muscle bad, someone hurts their shoulder, someone needs Tommy John. They don’t have good deliveries. You have to have a good delivery, like Pedro Martinez had, like Sandy Koufax had. I had one, Bob Gibson had one. Guys today aren’t turning, they’re not staying back; they’re not using their back leg for power. They don’t have anything behind them, so they’re just using their arm. Whatever part of the body has the most pressure it’s gonna go. If that’s your arm, then your arm is gonna go.

Do you think things will change back for the better?

The system has to change. Something is wrong, but they keep doing it. The players aren’t wrong, it’s the system. Pitchers get taken out of games and they don’t want to come out. It’s not their fault. I can read lips a little bit and I can see they’re mad. They want to stay in the game. Wins don’t mean shit anymore. Guys don’t throw complete games. They use six or seven pitchers in a game. They want the game to be quicker, but that’s not gonna happen with all those pitchers. I don’t agree with it, but that’s my personal opinion. I just think it’s wrong. That’s what we’re gonna see. It’s not gonna change. It doesn’t make any goddamned difference what I think. They changed the game. They didn’t need to change it. It was the same for 150 years. How many great players came through all those years? So many great players. Why do you want to change it? Leave it the way it was.

Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant victorious on field after winning Game 6 and championship series vs St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park. Boston, MA 10/30/2013 CREDIT: Al Tielemans (Photo by Al Tielemans /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

Mr. Tiant, you’re the absolute best. It has been such an honor to talk with you. This is my final question so as we wrap this up, could you leave us with some advice for pitchers today?

You can’t just throw hard. But you can’t crucify anybody or talk bad about anybody because they’re gonna do what they want to do. If you want to change and learn, you ask me. But, I wouldn’t tell anyone that they have to throw like me. I was a pitching coach and never told anybody they have to throw like me. But you have to use your legs, you have to turn. You have to. I don’t give a damn. You don’t have to be like me, but if you don’t turn, you’re gonna have problems. You have to help yourself. You have to have your legs help your body. You have to run and get in shape. You have to take care of yourself. Every fucking day, someone gets hurt. I feel bad for them. Young guys, 22 or 23 years old and they have to have Tommy John. It’s sad. Some come back, but others don’t. They ruin their baseball life. We can do better than that.

I don’t like this where everybody has to do to the same thing. They’re making them robots. Everybody is different. You don’t have to copy anybody else. You have to be yourself. You might look at one guy or the other guy and learn things from them, but you have to be yourself. You can listen, but you don’t have to do everything everyone tells you. You’re going to go fucking crazy!

Rocco is a baseball writer with too much time on his hands who lives in the dusty corners of Baseball Reference. He was one half of the battery for the 1986 Belleville Recreation Farm League Champion Indians. He likes early 20th century baseball nicknames, pullover polyester jerseys and Old Hoss Radbourn. He works as a College Athletics Director and his second book was released in April of 2021.

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