If Tiant's behavior
and cheerful view of baseball life appear to be the products of a simple Cuban
mind, one must disabuse himself of that notion, for according to reliable
testimony he is one of the craftiest of professionals, all business when
pitching. "He's like a surgeon," says Fisk, the catcher whose bat
carried the Red Sox through the first half of last season until Luie's pitching
took over. "He slices a batter apart. The keys to hitting are timing,
rhythm and concentration, and Luie has a unique way of breaking hitters down
and cutting them apart. He'll take a lot of time or maybe very little time at
all. Dick Allen likes to get in there and hit, to get on with his business. But
Luie will just stand out there, and stand, and stand, for what seems forever,
and Allen will be waiting at the plate muttering, 'That guy is putting me to
sleep.' Luie probably has as much knowledge of hitters as any pitcher in the
repertoire of pitching motions (which he sometimes dispenses with for several
games at a stretch in the interest of sustaining mystery) causes hitters to
thrust themselves into a state of concentration so intense, Fisk says, that it
is visible to the catcher's eye. "Their arms tremble," he says. Ron
Blomberg of the Yankees is known for hitting Tiant successfully, and he
explains that he has been able to follow the ball by forcing himself to blot
out Luie's gyrations from his vision (although Blomberg is unable to explain
precisely how he accomplishes that).
Years ago, when
Luie pitched for Cleveland, big George Scott—then with the Red Sox—time and
again murdered his bread-and-butter pitch, the fastball. Subsequently, Larry
Claflin found himself one winter's day in Tiant's Caracas apartment—at the time
he was playing in the Venezuelan winter league. Luie, at ease in an overstuffed
chair, his cigar pointed jauntily upward from the corner of his mouth, said to
Claflin through a cloud of smoke, "You write when you get home, no more
fastball for Se�or Scott." Never since has Scott hit Luie with any real
authority. In fact, so slyly does Luie work, whether throwing fastballs or
offspeed pitches, that in one game he stepped off the mound to look at a runner
on second and in the very act of doing so fired a strike past Scott, who,
pop-eyed, cried out, "What the hell's going on?" Umpire Nestor Chylak,
after several moments of reflection, charged Luie with a balk for deceiving the
says Red Sox Publicist Bill Crowley, "there's a lot more smarts in Luie's
head than he lets on." Crowley knows. Last winter he telephoned Luie in
Caracas to fly north for the Boston Baseball Writers' annual dinner. The ball
club, Crowley told him, would reimburse him for travel, meals and the rental of
a tuxedo. Later, Crowley let out a cry of anguish when Luie presented him with
a bill for the purchase of a tuxedo.
"I told you to
rent!" yelled Crowley.
"Tried to," he said, "but I have funny build."
Now that Luie once
again is important enough to push such expenses through the front office,
naturally one wonders why in the world the Indians, Twins and Atlanta Braves,
in that order, allowed so rare a talent to slip from their grasp. No easy
answers exist, certainly not in Cleveland.
That the Indians,
having seen him come into the majors with a year in which he won 15 games at
Triple A Portland and another 10 at Cleveland for a 25-5 season record, should
unload him just five years later, after only his first losing season, remains
confounding. Luie's taste for rich Spanish food caused him in 1969 to become
heavy in the chest, restricting his delivery, but still, ballplayers say he
lost 20 games mainly because of the Indians" feather-duster hitting. Gossip
had it that Luie's departure stemmed from Manager Alvin Dark's well-publicized
(though strongly denied) skepticism of Latins. One poor season. Dark's critics
said, provided him with the rationale for a trade.
As for Luie's
failure to last more than a year at Minnesota, the reasons are equally murky.
Early in the 1970 season he won six straight games. "He was lucky,"
says a Minnesota front-office man. "He should have been 3 and 3." Twins
management says Luie's fastball lacked its previous starch. They suspected him
of having a sore arm or a back injury that he would not admit to, and of being
older than he claimed. With uncharacteristic chagrin, Luie remembers the season
" Bill Rigney,
the manager, take away my confidence," he insists. " Rigney say, 'You
should not throw this, you should not throw that." Rigney's pitching coach
say, 'You not want to throw overhand.' I say, 'No way I change," and he
say, 'You have to change.' "