popularity been more deserved, for throughout his career Tiant has maintained a
disposition remarkably cheerful for a major league ballplayer. An only child,
banished from his homeland 11 years ago for choosing to make his fortune in
American baseball, he has waited in vain, but not without hope, for the Castro
government to permit his aged parents to join him. To measure the pain of that
separation, one must appreciate that the Tiants were a typically Cuban family,
which is to say close-knit, devoted and disciplined. Indeed, Luis Tiant Sr.,
now a 67-year-old Havana filling-station attendant but once a crack left-handed
pitcher in the American black leagues, opposed his son's baseball career in the
expectation that the boy would come to as undistinguished an end as he had.
Luie, at the time a teen-age shoe repairman in Cuba, makes it clear that had
his father not relented, he never would have left home to pitch. "If he say
I no go, I no go."
off-season, Luie lives with his Mexican wife and two children in a six-bedroom
house in Mexico City, but by contemporary baseball standards his brilliance has
gone relatively unrewarded. In Havana, American scouts rejected him on the
ground that his sidearm style inevitably would ruin his arm, so he had to make
his way to American baseball by first pitching three years for the Mexico City
Tigers at $150 a month. When he won 21 games for Cleveland in '68, his 10th
year of baseball, the Indians jumped him from $20,000 to $50,000, but his
subsequent plunge to 20 losses sidetracked him just as $100,000 salaries for
the gifted were about to become commonplace. "I tell you, I been 'way down
in this game," says Luie. "I been in—what you call it?—the big box.
Yes, the coffin. I been in the coffin, but I got out."
All the while he
has remained, as Reggie Smith puts it, "a guy who wakes up every morning of
his life with something funny to say," though it does not always come
easily. The thrill of becoming a 20-game winner, Luie once told teammate Tommy
Harper in a rare moment of solemnity, was blunted by the fact that he could not
share it with his parents. "It's tough, especially at Christmastime,"
he says. "It used to be the whole family together. Big dinner, dancing,
drink the grape and everybody wish to you love. But everything we do in this
life is problems, so what you going to worry?"
Having awakened to
another day, he descends to the hotel coffee shop, where he studies Reggie
Smith's yellow jump suit and says, "You look like airplane mechanic."
He orders corned-beef hash with instructions to the waitress that she "tell
the cooking man to give me enough for a grown man, not for a midget."
When the irritants
of baseball parade before Luie's rose-colored view they have a way of becoming
benign. For example, to hear him talk, Fenway's Green Monster left-field fence,
recorded as lying 315 feet distant in the corner but actually only 302 feet
away, traumatizing Red Sox pitchers for generations, is a joy and comfort.
"Green Monster make you a better pitcher," he chirps. "It make you
bear down all the time. You have to use your head and whatever else you got.
Others look at fence and bitch, but you can get beat in any park and you can
win anywhere." Almost incredibly, Luie won 10 straight at Fenway last
While many players
plough testily through knots of autograph seekers and grouch about airplane
schedules, general managers and dirty socks, not Luie. Trainer LeRoux testifies
that Tiant has never departed his whirlpool or rubdown table without piping,
"Thank you!" Gabe Paul, who bought Luie from Mexico City, says,
"Buying him a suit of clothes or just a box of cigars meant more to him
than it would have meant to most guys. He appreciated the little niceties."
So he did. "I hear a lotta players talking bad about Gabepaul," says
Luie, "but I no can say anything bad about Gabepaul or I am a
Because it is
evident to anyone who has spent 10 minutes in his presence that Luie, at
whatever age he may be, continues to find baseball the ultimate enjoyment, even
opposing ballplayers seem to relish it when he launches into the sort of
commentary that has established him as one of the most voluble of agitators. He
requires only so much as a lower lip—in particular, Outfielder Tommy Harper's
thick lower lip—to conceive a running attack that can go on for years. As a
teammate of Harper's at Cleveland in 1968, Luie dubbed him Liver Lips. Later,
when they became opponents, Luie greeted Harper's appearance at the plate by
popping up in the dugout wearing a Donald Duck mask.
Harper in Boston, Luie clapped his hands with joy when Carl Yastrzemski brought
to the clubhouse an outsized bass he had caught on a fishing trip. Luie propped
open the fish's mouth with two tongue depressors and placed the fish on its
back in front of Harper's locker. He dressed the fish in Harper's cap and, from
the body down, stretched out Harper's uniform, number up. If such elaborate
preparations sound like a lot of trouble to go to for a laugh, Luie
nevertheless found them worth the effort when Harper arrived at the clubhouse,
victimized again by the Cantinflas of Boston.
"Nobody is shut
out from his antics," says Eddie Kasko. While Tommy Harper is Liver Lips,
big-nosed infielder Rico Petrocelli is Pinocchio, pale-complexioned Ken Tatum
is No Color, Luie Aparicio is Midget, erect Carlton Fisk is Frankenstein and
Yastrzemski is Polacko. This may strike the outsider as crude fun, granted, but
it must be viewed in the context of ball-field humor, which traditionally has
not been exactly Noel Coward. A home run evokes from Tiant a blood-curdling
scream that travels up from the dugout and hangs in the air till the ball has
disappeared over the fence. "Move your black tail!" he screeches at
black opponents, who chuckle. And when he beholds pesty little hitters who
eschew the big swing—Roy White and Horace Clarke of the Yankees, for example—he
scoffs, "Japanese hitter!"
In only one known
instance has Luie's needling provoked its target to real anger, that being last
season when he and Reggie Smith—the same Reggie who says Luie awakens every
morning with hilarity on his lips—briefly exchanged punches. A Red Sox official
explains that Reggie that morning awakened "in one of his recluse