Card-by-Yankees Card: The 1977 Topps Set, Card #258, Luis Tiant (Article 51)
by Paul Semendinger
(Continuing a series…)
There was a time when Luis Tiant was one of the best pitchers in baseball.
He had that wonderful twisting windup. He pitched in big games for the Red Sox.
For a time, he was a legend – one of baseball biggest stars.
In 1973, Luis Tiant went 20-13.
In 1974, he went 22-13.
In 1975, we won 18 games (against 14 losses), but was 3-0 in the Post Season against the Oakland A’s and the Cincinnati Reds – two powerhouse teams.
In 1976, Tiant again won 20 games going 21-12.
For that four year period, Luis Tiant was one of the very best in the game. He went 81-52, 3.31. But, even so, those four years didn’t define his career.
Quick Quiz – Who led the American League in ERA in 1968 (“The Year of the Pitcher)?
Answer – Luis Tiant (then with the Indians) led the A.L. in ERA with a miniscule 1.60 ERA.
Luis Tiant won 20-games on one other occasion, in 1968, when he went 21-9.
Tiant also led the league in ERA in 1972 (with the Red Sox) with a remarkable ERA of 1.91.
Some experts make the argument that Luis Tiant belongs in the Hall-of-Fame.
Maybe he does.
His All-Time WAR (66.1) ranks above such Hall-of-Fame starting pitchers as Dazzy Vance, Red Ruffing, Jim Bunning, Rube Waddell, Don Sutton, Early Wynn, and many others.
Tiant’s WAR7 (best seven seasons by WAR) ranks above Dizzy Dean, Three Finger Brown, Nolan Ryan, Jack Chesbro, Bob Lemon, John Smoltz, and many others.
Toward the tail end of his career, Luis Tiant pitched for the Yankees. He pitched for the Yankees for two seasons, 1979 and 1980.
Tiant, at the time, was in his age-38 and age-39 seasons.
And in 1979, now forgotten by most, he was pretty good.
In 1979, Luis Tiant made 30 starts for the Yankees.
He pitched 195 innings.
That season, he went 13-8, 3.91.
And, not really remembered.
You know what else isn’t remembered, ever, by anyone, anywhere, is that the Yankees played a game on August 3, 1979 – the day after Thurman Munson died in the tragic plane crash.
Yes, the Yankees had to still play.
Everyone remembers the classic game the Yankees won on the shoulders of Bobby Murcer, the day they buried Thurman Munson, but that game was played on August 6, 1979. That game wasn’t played the day after Thurman died.
Immediately after Munson’s death, the Yankees still played.
They played on August 3 and August 4 and August 5.
The man who pitched for the Yankees the day after they lost their captain was Luis Tiant.
And he pitched a gem.
With catcher Jerry Narron behind the plate, Luis Tiant went out and pitched one of the best games of his life.
He allowed just two hits over eight innings. Those hits were as follows:
John Lowenstein homer – 2nd inning
Al Bumbry single – 6th inning
Those were the only hits he allowed.
He gave the Yankees every chance to win, but unfortunately, Scott McGregor was a little better. He allowed six Yankees hits, but no runs, over 8 innings. Tippy Martinez slammed the door shut in the 9th. And the Yankees lost 1-0.
No one remembers that game.
And that’s a shame, because Tiant went out, put the team on his shoulders, and hurled a gem. If the Yankees had won that night, everyone would always remember how Luis Tiant stepped up.
Well, Tiant did step up.
The Yankees just didn’t score for him.
You know what else no one remembers? After that game, down the stretch, the Yankees won 7 of Tiant’s last 9 starts (with Tiant going 6-2).
Overall, the Yankees went 19-11 in games started by Luis Tiant in 1979.
He had an excellent season, largely forgotten.
In 1980, Tiant wasn’t as good. He still made 25 starts, but he went just 8-9, 4.89.
After the 1980 season, Tiant threw for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1981) and California Angels (1982) before calling it a career.
His overall numbers:
One day, Cooperstown might actually come calling…