Why El Tiante Should be in the Hall…
The Hall of Fame voting process is probably one of the more mysterious processes in modern sports culture, and also one of the most important. The results of this tradition-laden event spark more house-dividing caliber sports debate than anything else in the game, and it is far from flawless.
Over the years, many worthy candidates have fallen through the cracks of time, deserving enshrinement, but ultimately getting the occasional mention on a “this day in baseball history” segment on a pregame show somewhere. One of those players was the son of a Cuban ballplayer, who took his fathers unique style of pitching to the Major Leagues, and along the way, put up a career worthy of more consideration than has been given.
Luis Tiant was born in 1940, son of a professional Baseball player in Cuba. The Elder Tiant was a master of off-speed pitches, and was known for his off-kilter delivery, two skills that the younger would adopt at an early age. He started playing professionally in 1959, a member of the Mexico City Tigers club, until he eventually worked his way into the Indians organization. In 1964, he made his debut at the age of 23, throwing 127 innings, and compiling an ERA of 2.83. He would go on to pitch for four more seasons in Cleveland, pitching 211 games, and an ERA of 2.84. He earned his first ERA title in 1968, sporting a 1.60 mark over 258 innings.
He is probably most famously known for his time with the Red Sox, an era that began in 1972, and ended in 1978. Over that time, he won 122 games, with an ERA of 3.36. He was an invaluable member of the 1975 Red Sox team that made it to the World Series, losing in an epic 7 games to the Cincinnati Reds, a series in which Tiant pitched two complete games, throwing 25 solid innings of work against the Big Red Machine, arguably one of the most potent lineups ever assembled.
He would finish his career with some less successful stints with the Yankees, Pirates, and final the California Angels, but when the dust settled, Tiant would own a collection of statistics that seemed ticket for Cooperstown, and yet, in his standard 15 year turn on the IBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, he failed to secure more than 30% of the vote, less than half of what induction requires.
By all accounts, it simply doesn’t make sense. The numbers tell a story of an easy induction:
3,486.1 Innings Pitched (more than John Smoltz or Don Drysdale)
2,416 Strikeouts (More than Juan Marichal or Jim Palmer)
66 Wins Above Replacement (More than Roy Halladay, or Bob Feller)
114 ERA+* (Better than Jack Morris or Nolan Ryan)
* = ERA+ takes a player’s ERA and normalizes it across the entire league. It accounts for external factors like ballparks and opponents. It then adjusts, so a score of 100 is league average, and 150 is 50 percent better than the league average.
So it begs the question…. Why the hell didn’t he get in?
First, one has to look at who ELSE was on the ballot. One of the “quirks” (that’s the nicest way I can put it) about the voting system, is that a writer can only select ten candidates per year. So let’s see who were some of the inductees on the years that Tiant was on the ballot, and how much of the vote he got…
1st year, 1988: Willie Stargell (Tiant got 30.9%)
2nd year, 1989: Johnny Bench, Carl Yastrzemski (Tiant fell to 10.5%)
3rd year, 1990: Jim Palmer, Joe Morgan (Tiant at 9.5%)
4th year, 1991: Rod Carew, Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins (Tiant dropped to 7.2%)
15th year, 2002: Ozzie Smith (Tiant dropped off at 18%)
It’s arguable that Tiant was a victim of circumstance, with so many legendary players coming up on the ballot, that the writers simply ran out of room for him. That span of time saw some pretty decisive entries, such as Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Tony Perez, Mike Schmidt, even years like in 1996 where no player garnered enough votes to get in.
Second, and maybe most interestingly, he was the victim of outdated thinking about the game, from a statistical output. Tiant played on some very good teams, but also some very bad teams, thus adversely effecting his overall win total. While 229 is not a slim number, it puts him in marginal company, behind Jim Palmer (268), Robin Roberts (286), and Fergie Jenkins (284), even though he was comparably as good, or even better than those pitchers. The Win is widely regarded as an outdated statistic in modern times, and we have learned other, more accurate ways to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness. A bit too late for Luis, though.
The fact is, that Luis Tiant is worthy of a Hall of Fame induction. He was not just one of the most effective pitchers of his era, but most importantly, given what the IBWAA has deemed acceptable for nomination into the sacred halls of Cooperstown, New York, (I’m looking at you, Jack Morris), one could argue that Luis got much less respect than he deserved.
Author: Adam MacKinnon (@AdamCMacK)