Red Sox

Luis Tiant's journey, which has faded with time, is key to Hall vote

red-sox-luis-tiant.jpg

Luis Tiant's journey, which has faded with time, is key to Hall vote

Jim Rice’s 15-year wait to get into the Hall of Fame doesn’t sound so bad in comparison to the limbo Luis Tiant finds himself in.

The cigar-smoking El Tiante, now 77, is one of 10 people who can gain entry to Cooperstown through a committee vote during the winter meetings. He needs at least 12 of 16 votes to make it.

Saul Wisnia, an author assisting Tiant in his upcoming autobiography, points out that Tiant's 66.1 wins above replacement lifetime puts him ahead of three other pitchers from his era who are in the Hall of Fame: Don Drysdale (61.2), Jim Bunning (60.3) and Catfish Hunter (36.6). 

Tiant sits at No. 40 on the Baseball-Reference lifetime WAR list. No. 39, at 66.5 WAR, is Hall of Famer John Smoltz.

Even when discussing statistics that sound promising for Tiant, something can be lost with time: a sense of the greater context, both for the journey of the player and the journey for the person, really. The understanding of everything that went into those numbers.

Is there a point where a pitcher whose stats may be borderline becomes, when viewed as a whole, a worthy candidate because of the path behind them? Do we really remember and appreciate what it was like for Tiant as a Cuban pitcher coming to America in the 1960s, and what weight does that carry? 

"People don’t know what we go through," Tiant said. "You have to be a Cuban to know what we go through, through all of life. All this time, we went 46 years away from my country, from my family."

Tiant's returned to Cuba twice in his life, both times in the new millennium. In 1961, when he was in Mexico and made the choice not to return home because of the political climate, he didn't know if he would ever make it back — or ever see his family again. 

In one of the great moments of Tiant's career, Fidel Castro granted permission for his parents to watch him pitch a game at Fenway Park (below).

When Tiant first arrived in the U.S., the vitriol was rampant.

“I get the worst sides of life, Cuban and black,” Tiant said. “And then coming here, and not speaking the language makes it worse. See and then the towns you play, or the state where you play … they’re not liking us. They’re screaming at us, they treated us like a dog. We can’t do anything, we can’t stay in the same hotels where the players stay, we can't eat in the same restaurant they eat, and when we go on the road the players have to bring you the food, the white players bring you the food to the bus. That’s the only way we can eat. 

“They stay in the hotel and we have to stay in the black section. At some peoples’ house, they rent it for us. And that’s the way it was, the people, the fans, they call you names, all game. All game. … You don’t want people to call you names, telling you they’re going to hang you, send you back to Africa. I tell them, people don’t understand what we have to go through. And that’s what bothers me more than anything.”

Tiant went 229-172 with a 3.30 ERA in a 19-year career. Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe, an expert on the Hall of Fame process, wrote earlier this month, “Via the advanced metrics, Tiant is about seven wins off the career WAR standard for enshrined starters, and six off the peak.” 

“One has to give him substantial credit for cultural ambassadorship to justify a vote for enshrinement,” Jaffe continued.

Credit for ambassadorship may not necessarily fully encompass credit for hardship, however.

The Hall does seem meaningful to Tiant, even if he says otherwise.

“I don’t give a damn about it, whatever happens, happens,” Tiant said. “These people do whatever they want to do. … That’s a crazy thing they be doing. I don’t want to be sitting down and worrying about it anymore. I just, sit here. I’m still alive. If they put me in before I’m dead, fine, if not, what are you going to do?”

The vote is Dec. 10, and results will be announced live at 6 p.m. on MLB Network. The other nine on the 10-person ballot with Tiant: Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, and Alan Trammell.

Tiant is a part of what’s now called the Modern Era ballot, one of four era ballots that the Hall rotates through, one each year. A 16-member committee votes on their candidacy — much smaller than the pool of voters for players on the traditional writers’ ballot — with the standard 75 percent required.

From the Hall’s press release: “The 10 Modern Baseball Era finalists were selected by the BBWAA-appointed Historical Overview Committee from all eligible candidates among managers, umpires, executives and players whose most significant career impact was realized during the time period from 1970 through 1987.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Red Sox offense quiet again in 4-1 loss to Twins

sox_twins.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Photo

Red Sox offense quiet again in 4-1 loss to Twins

MINNEAPOLIS - Robbie Grossman and Max Kepler homered to back an effective start by Lance Lynn as the Minnesota Twins beat the Boston Red Sox 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Grossman led off the bottom of the first with a solo home run and Kepler added a two-run shot off Boston starter David Price (8-5). Brian Dozier added a pair of doubles to help Minnesota win for the fourth time in five games.

Lynn (5-5) again struggled with command, issuing five walks, but he surrendered just one unearned run and three hits in five innings.

Four relievers combined for four scoreless innings with Fernando Rodney securing his 16th save in 19 chances.

Price allowed the three runs on seven hits and a walk. He had given up just one home run in his previous five starts and seven total in 14 starts this season coming into Wednesday.

The Red Sox were 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position and are 2 for 22 in the first two games of the series. They've stranded 18 baserunners in the two games and lost for the fourth time in five games.

Lynn has had an uncharacteristic wild season in his first year with the Twins. He walked at least five batters for the fifth time in 14 starts. But the veteran right-hander has limited the damage and allowed less than three runs in five of his last six starts.

Boston's lone run scored in the second as Lynn couldn't catch first baseman Logan Morrison's high throw to first for the final out of the inning, allowing Mitch Moreland to score from second base.

Drellich: Every move Red Sox, Yankees make has new meaning

Drellich: Every move Red Sox, Yankees make has new meaning

The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has a newfound sense of urgency. A feeling that every move counts and will count, be it at the trade deadline in a month and a half, or when Alex Cora determines his second baseman on a nightly basis.

It's not because these franchises hate each other, because of their steep history. It's because they actually have to best the other, or suffer an unwelcome consequence.

Unlike the early 2000s, both teams cannot enter the playoffs on equal footing. A second-place finish in the American League East will sting. Participating in the Wild Card game for the right to move on to the five-game Division Series will be a stomach-turning experience for one of these two teams.

The upshot presently: even as the Sox and Yanks play teams that are uninspiring, and there are plenty such clubs, there is reason for fans and players alike to stay intently focused. (In the midst of a 162-game season, there will be lapses for everyone.) There is reason to care, in fact, if the ideal lineup or pinch-hit decision is made by Alex Cora, at every juncture. There is reason to care about whether Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has sufficiently helped rebuild the farm system, because it’s a matter of depth options now and via trade.

The Sox can have the best record in the majors in June, or be one win off the pace-setters, and the smallest of details will still matter. “They’re great,” doesn’t cut it. “Is this move optimal to beat the Yankees, the team that can relegate the Sox to a one-game playoff scenario?” is the question to be answered

As trade season arrives, the concept of the marginal win is out the window for both clubs. Or it should be. In divisions where one team is clearly superior, the need to add by trade isn’t always so clear. What’s the difference between 93 wins and 95 wins if you’re heading to the Division Series either way? Is the slight upgrade worth whatever you’re giving up?

The playoffs are always a crapshoot. But the Sox and Yanks are playing to avoid the biggest crapshoot of all in the Wild Card.

Passion between fan bases in the regular season wasn’t lacking 15 years ago. It was greater, obviously. But for different reasons. Second place in the division was usually a matter of bragging rights, rather than actual reward or worthiness. 

We’ve returned to a world where the Sox and Yanks are clearly better than virtually everyone. Were the rest of the AL stronger this year, the Wild Card could be a blessing for the Sox or the Yanks — a chance to make a postseason run that did not previously exist when there were four playoff teams instead of five. 

But the present landscape shows three powerhouses, and two of them happen to be classic rivals in the East. What they do before October means more now than it used to.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE