When the Hall of Fame announced the “Modern Game” ballot this Monday, the colorful Cuban-born right-handed starting pitcher Luis Tiant was on the list of candidates. This ballot represents the current version of the Veterans Committee, a “2nd chance” avenue for players that were bypassed by the baseball writers’ ballots to make it into the Hall of Fame. I discussed in my recent piece The Modern Game Hall of Fame Ballot for 2018 how the various Veterans Committees (now referred to as the Eras Committees) have been very stingy with their votes, not conferring a Cooperstown plaque on any living player since Bill Mazeroski in 2001. It’s been a 16-year shutout for the living.

Cooperstown Cred: Luis Tiant

  • Career: 229-172 (.571), 3.30 ERA, 2,416 strikeouts
  • Career: 66.1 WAR (see Glossary), 3rd best for any pitcher in the 20th century not in the Hall of Fame
  • Won 20 games four times
  • Career: 187 complete games, 49 shutouts (led A.L. in shutouts 3 times)
  • Led A.L. in ERA twice (1.60 with Cleveland in 1968, 1.91 with Boston in 1972)
  • 3-time All-Star
  • 3 times in top 6 of Cy Young voting
  • Went 3-0 (with 3 CG’s and shutout) with 2.65 ERA in 1975 post-season

(cover photo: Boston Baseball History)

Career Highlights (pitched for 6 teams between 1964-1982)

Luis Clemente Tiant y Vega was born in 1940 in Marianao, Cuba. His father, Luis Eleuterio, was a a legendary left-hander in the Cuban leagues and the American Negro Leagues. The younger Tiant was pitching in Mexico City when Fidel Castro banned all outside travel; he decided not to return home, not knowing if he would ever see his family again. Before the 1962 season, he was purchased from his Mexican League team by the Cleveland Indians.

Tiant debuted for the Indians in 1964 and spent six seasons with the Tribe. His best season (in Cleveland and in his career) was in 1968, when he went 21-9 with a 1.60 ERA, a campaign which included an AL-best 9 shutouts. In an unfortunate bit of bad luck, this was the same season in which the Tigers’ Denny McClain won 31 games (against just 6 losses) with a 1.96 ERA so Tiant’s magnificent campaign did not result in a Cy Young trophy. Still, for his efforts, Tiant finished 5th in the A.L. MVP voting.

El Tiante fell from the heights of his 1968 brilliance to a below average campaign in 1969; he went 9-20 with a 3.71 ERA (a little less than league average). He also led the majors in walks issued (129) and home runs allowed (37). In December of 1969, Tiant was traded to the Minnesota Twins in a deal that sent Graig Nettles to the Indians. After an excellent first two months (6-0, 3.12 ERA) with the Twins, he was diagnosed with a cracked bone in his right shoulder. He only pitched in eight more games in 1970 and was released the following spring.

After two minor league stops early in 1971, Tiant hooked up with the Boston Red Sox but his debut season in Beantown was hardly inspiring: he went 1-7 with a 4.85 ERA. His career turned around in 1972. After spending four months shuttling between bullpen work and spot starting, Tiant settled into the Sox rotation in August. In his last 11 starts, he went 9-2 with a 0.96 ERA. That great late-season run included 9 complete games and 6 shutouts. His overall ERA of 1.91 was best in the American League.

For the next six years, El Tiante was a fixture in the Red Sox rotation and one of the team’s most popular players. From 1973-76, Tiant won 81 games (winning 20 three times) with a 3.31 ERA. His only off year, ironically, was in 1975, the lone year the Red Sox made the playoffs and the World Series. Tiant was understandably distracted that year by the prospects of a family reunion. Castro responded positively to a plea from Senators George McGovern and Edward Brooke III and allowed Tiant’s parents to travel from Cuba to visit their son in the U.S.

Tiant turned his ’75 season around with four strong starts to close the campaign (posting a 1.47 ERA with 3 complete games and 2 shutouts). Continuing his hot streak, he threw a complete game in Game 1 of the ALCS against the three-time defending champion Oakland Athletics (the Sox swept the A’s in 3 games). Getting the nod again to open the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, Tiant threw a shutout against the mighty Big Red Machine. In Game 4, he gutted out a 155-pitch complete game, a 5-4 victory for the Sox. Working on fumes in the bottom of the 9th inning, he got Joe Morgan to pop out to first base with the tying run on 2nd base and the winning run on 1st. The fairy tale would not end well for Boston; the Reds won the Series in 7 games. (Incidentally, most reports have listed Tiant’s Game 4 effort as a 163 pitch game. Here, we’re going with the 155 pitches listed on Baseball Reference).

Tiant’s final season in Boston was 1978, the season in which the Red Sox famously blew a 10-game lead to their hated division rivals, the New York Yankees. What’s often forgotten is that the Sox won their final 8 games just to force the one-game playoff against the Bronx Bombers. In that 8-game winning streak, Tiant did his part, winning three starts (all on three days of rest), giving up just 3 runs in 25 innings (1.13 ERA). His two-hit shutout on the final day of the regular season, his last effort in a Boston uniform, propelled the Sox into that one-game playoff, which they lost the next day, thanks to Bucky Bleeping Dent!

After the season, the Red Sox offered Tiant a one-year contract; their hated rivals offered a two-year deal and Tiant decided to pitch for George Steinbrenner’s Yankees. In his last four seasons (two with the Yankees, one with the Pirates and one with the Angels), Tiant went 25-24 with a 4.36 ERA.

The team’s decision to let the beloved Tiant sign with their bitter enemies did not go well within the Red Sox clubhouse. According to Peter Gammons’ book Beyond the Sixth Game, the team was devastated. Carl Yastrzemski said “They tore out our heart and soul.” Gammons also quoted Dwight Evans, who said “Unless you’ve played with him, you can’t understand what Luis means to a team.”

Besides his Fu Manchu mustache and his distinctive windup, which resembled a tornado and included a look to the sky, Mark Armour’s piece on Tiant’s SABR bio includes some insight into Tiant’s popularity, both within the clubhouse and to the fans of the city of Boston.

Tiant’s physical appearance was part of his charm. Red Smith once wrote that he looked like “Pancho Villa after a tough week of looting and burning.” Boston writer Tim Horgan later suggested that Tiant’s “visage belongs on Mt. Rushmore.” A barrel-chested man who looked fatter than he really was, Tiant would often emerge from the shower with a cigar in his mouth, look at his naked body in the mirror and declare himself to be a (in his exaggerated Spanish accent): “good-lookeen sonofabeech.”

— Mark Armour (Society of American Baseball Research)

Thanks to SABR for some of these biographical nuggets.

The history of Tiant’s disappointments on the Hall of Fame ballots

Honestly, I was surprised to see Tiant’s name on the Modern Game ballot, not because I think he’s unworthy of a Hall of Fame plaque but because he spent 15 years on the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America) ballot with no success. This is now the sixth time he’s been on one of the Veterans or Eras Committee ballots and he’s gotten nowhere.

Tiant hit the BBWAA ballot 30 years ago. He received a solid 31% of the vote; that’s 2 points more than his Red Sox teammate Jim Rice received in his first bite at the BBWAA apple in 1995. That 31% tally was the highest El Tiante would ever reach. His voting support plummeted to 10.5% in 1989, a year with a stacked ballot that featured first time candidates Yastrzemski, Johnny Bench, Gaylord Perry, Ferguson Jenkins and Jim Kaat. Yaz and Bench were first-ballot inductees. In the entire history of the BBWAA vote, Tiant’s second year plunge of over 20% of the vote is the most ever.

Things got worse for Tiant in 1990 when Jim Palmer and Joe Morgan joined the party; they were also enshrined on the first ballot. Tiant’s vote sagged to 9.5%. Perry and Jenkins were third ballot inductees in 1991 while Tiant’s support dropped to 7%.

What happened to Tiant is that, in 1988, his career was judged on its own. In 1989, it was judged in comparison to Perry, Jenkins and Kaat. In 1990, it was judged in comparison to Perry, Jenkins, Kaat and Palmer. Like Tiant, Kaat never got remotely close to the 75% finish line needed for a Cooperstown plaque but he out-polled Tiant every year. Along the way, Tiant and Kaat suffered in comparison to Tom Seaver, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, who all hit the ballot between 1992-1994.

In the four years before Tiant’s debut on the ballot, the writers inducted two starting pitchers, Catfish Hunter and Don Drysdale.

The other starting pitchers on Tiant’s first ballot in 1988 were Jim Bunning and Mickey Lolich. So, take a look at how Tiant stacks up to the Hall of Fame pitching candidates and inductees from 1984-1988 and then look at how he stacks up to his competition from 1989-1994. We’re just going to use wins, losses and ERA, the stats that mattered most to the voters in those years.

Starting Pitchers on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot from 1984-1994
On HOF ballot 1984-88WLWL%ERAHall of Fame outcome
Don Drysdale209166.5572.9510th ballot indcutee 1984
Catfish Hunter224166.5743.263rd ballot inductee 1987
*Jim Bunning224184.5493.2774% in 1988, 63% in 1989
#Mickey Lolich217191.5323.4425.5% in 1988, 10.5% in 1989
#Luis Tiant229172.5713.3031% in 1988, 10.5% in 1989
Added to ballot 1989-94WLWL%ERAHall of Fame outcome
Gaylord Perry314265.5423.113rd ballot inductee 1991
Fergie Jenkins284226.5573.343rd ballot inductee 1991
Jim Palmer268152.6382.861st ballot inductee 1990
Tom Seaver311205.6032.861st ballot inductee 1992
Phil Niekro318274.5373.355th ballot inductee 1997
Don Sutton324256.5593.265th ballot inductee 1998
Steve Carlton329244.5743.221st ballot inductee 1994
*Inducted by Veterans Committee in 1996#Never elected in 15 ballots
Courtesy Baseball Reference

Do you see how Tiant compares so much better to those that were on the brains of the voters in 1988 compared to the years that followed? By the way, the flood of top tier candidates between 1989 and 1994 also took down the votes of Bunning and Lolich. Bunning, in particular, was on the doorstep of Cooperstown with 74% of the vote in 1988. With Perry and Jenkins added to the ’89 ballot, the future Kentucky Senator dropped to 63% of the vote and had to wait for a Veterans Committee nod in 1996.

Tiant never approached that 31% debut tally again; in the next 14 years on the BBWAA ballot, he maxed out at 18% in 2002, his final year. Still, in the history of the Hall of Fame, a candidate like Tiant, someone who was immensely popular as a player, would normally have found safe haven with the Veterans Committee, which had inducted 93 Hall of Famers between 1939 and 2001. But the bad timing of El Tiante’s tortured journey toward Cooperstown continued.

The Sporting News

In 2003, the Hall of Fame decided to let all 81 living Hall of Fame members (players, managers, executives, broadcasters, and writers) vote on the candidacies of dozens of candidates and not one player received the necessary 75% of the vote.

The same process was repeated in 2005, with Tiant joining the ballot for the first time; again the Committee pitched a shutout.

In 2007, the same fruitless endeavor was tried for a third time, with the same result. El Tiante finished in a tie for 9th place with 15 votes (out of 62 needed).

In 2009, the Hall of Fame changed the process to limit the vote to players only. Again, nobody was inducted. The Hall of Fame didn’t report all of the vote totals but we know that Tiant got less than 19 votes (out of the 48 needed for 75%).

With no luck opening the voting to the entire body of Hall of Famers, the process reverted to a small panel, a 16-member “Golden Era” committee, which succeeded in electing longtime Cubs third baseman Ron Santo in December 2011, a year after his death. On that same ballot, Jim Kaat, Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso and Tony Oliva received 50% of the vote or more. Tiant’s total was just released as “less than 3.”

In December 2014 (voting for the Class of 2015), a “Golden Era” committee convened again. This group, like so many before them, failed to induct anybody, with Dick Allen and Oliva falling one vote shy (11 votes out of 16, with 12 being the minimum). Tiant again earned less than 3 votes.

Anyway, you can see why I’m puzzled to see Tiant on the 2018 “Modern Game” ballot. He has made no headway in five other appearances with the Veterans or Eras Committees and the 76-year old Tiant is clearly growing bitter about it.

“I already told my family, ‘They put me after I die, don’t go anywhere. Don’t go to the Hall of Fame, don’t go to Cooperstown, don’t go no god— place.’ Cause I think it’s wrong what they do… What good is that they put you after you die? You can’t do nothing with your family and your friends.”

— The Sporting News (April 17, 2017)

Let me just briefly address Tiant’s “it’s wrong what they do” comment. Being in the Hall of Fame is an honor, not a right. There is no obligation by the Hall of Fame to grant entry to Tiant or any other player. But he and other players have every right to be bitter over the process.

In the 20th century, the Veterans Committee put a lot of players into the Hall. Some were dubious selections but a lot of them were really good players who just weren’t quite as good as others on the writers’ ballots. There are a myriad of reasons why players get bypassed or forgotten by the writers.

The bitterness, which is shared by many other players of Tiant’s generation, is that not one living player has been inducted by the Veterans or Eras Committees in 16 years. You don’t think Tiant and others noticed that Santo got in one year after he died?

The Hall of Fame is tied to this 75% rule, which makes sense when you’re voting on the BBWAA ballot (only the best of the best get in) but not on the “2nd chance” ballot for the second tier of Hall of Fame players. There is nothing wrong with being in the second tier. There are a hundred second tier players in the Hall already.

What’s the difference between the process of the previous Veterans Committees and the current Eras Committees? It’s hard to know precisely because the committee meetings are extraordinarily secretive. But it’s clear that there was some horse trading, deal making and, yes, cronyism, in yesteryear to get some players into Cooperstown.

It’s apparent that today it’s just a secret ballot and, oops, nobody got 12 votes but two guys got 11. Sorry, no room at the inn this year. Again.

How Does Luis Tiant Compare to Existing Hall of Famers?

I’ve been a Boston Red Sox fan since I started following baseball in 1975. I was eight years old and highly impressionable. The first time I saw Luis Tiant pitch, he became my favorite player. To me, he was the epitome of cool. Whether it was his Fu Manchu mustache or his singularly unique delivery, there was something about El Tiante that just clicked with me. When the Sox fell to the Big Red Machine in 7 games in the World Series, I cried.

There is nothing that would make me happier than to see Tiant make it into the Hall of Fame. If he had just started his career six to seven years earlier, he might very well have made it, either through the BBWAA or through the Veterans Committee before they put a padlock on that door.

Catfish Hunter and Luis Tiant were teammates with the New York Yankees in Hunter’s last major league season, 1979. Hunter retired at the age of 33 after what was the worst season of his career; he went 2-9 with a 5.31 ERA. One wonders if he had stuck around for three more mediocre seasons (as Tiant did) whether he would have had a tougher road into the Hall of Fame. I also wonder what would have happened if Tiant had retired after the ’79 season as Catfish did and how he would have fared had he been on four Hall of Fame ballots before the wave of 300-game winners started to hit in 1989.

Hunter’s and Tiant’s career numbers are remarkably similar.

Courtesy Baseball Reference
CareerIPWLERASOCGSHOERA+WAR
Catfish Hunter3449.12241663.2620121814210436.6
Luis Tiant3486.12291723.3024161874911466.1

I added ERA+ (see the Glossary), which adjusts for the fact that Tiant pitched half of his career in Fenway Park and Hunter toiled in pitcher-friendly Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. Also, I’ve added WAR (Wins Above Replacement) because it shows a stunning differential. Why is Tiant’s WAR so dramatically better than Hunter’s? The ballpark effects are part of it, Tiant’s superior strikeout rate is part of it, but the biggest factor is that Catfish pitched for some terrific defensive ball clubs in Oakland and New York.

During his seven years in Oakland (1968-74), Catfish posted a 2.38 ERA at home and a 3.79 ERA on the road. That’s a massive difference. Interestingly, Tiant’s ERA in his eight years in Fenway was 3.29, which was slightly better than his 3.45 road ERA during those same years.

Personally, I think that WAR is punishing Hunter a little too severely here and, of course, it doesn’t account for his five World Championship rings; Catfish played an integral role in four of those titles.

Anyway, you could put 1,000 people into the Hall of Fame by saying “player X was better than player Y.” A better argument is to take a group of candidates.

Take a look at how many of the 66 enshrined Hall of Fame starting pitchers have numbers inferior to Tiant’s in 9 different statistical categories.

Hall of Famers with statistics worse than Luis Tiant in different categories
CategoryLuis TiantHOF-ers worse
Wins22920
WL %.57120
ERA3.3014
SHO4940
SO241641
WHIP1.19928
SO/BB2.1934
ERA+11415
WAR66.130
Courtesy Baseball Reference

As you can see, this goes far beyond a one-on-one comparison between Catfish and Luis.

Next, I’m going to dig just a little bit deeper into the table we showed you about the different quality of starting pitchers on the Hall of Fame ballot from 1984-1988 compared to the quality that started to hit the ballot in 1989. This is the crux of the matter. Luis Tiant hit the BBWAA ballot in 1988. In the previous 21 years, the writers elected 11 starting pitchers to the Hall of Fame. These 11 hurlers toed the rubber from as early as 1924 to as late as 1979.

From 1990 to 2011, the writers elected 9 starting pitchers who were all stars in the 1970’s and whose careers were all condensed from as early as 1962 to as late as 1993.

Hall of Fame starting pitchers (elected by the BBWAA between 1967 and 2011)
Pitcher & Year InductedPitcher & Year Inducted
*Red Ruffing1967Jim Palmer1990
Sandy Koufax1972Fergie Jenkins1991
Early Wynn1972Gaylord Perry1991
Warren Spahn1973Tom Seaver1992
Whitey Ford1974Steve Carlton1994
Bob Lemon1976Phil Niekro1997
Robin Roberts1976Don Sutton1998
Bob Gibson1981Nolan Ryan1999
Juan Marichal1983Bert Blyleven2011
Don Drysdale1984
Catfish Hunter1987
*Elected by run-off

Tiant was a contemporary of nine truly superb pitchers. Here are how his numbers stack up against the average statistics compiled by the nine hurlers that comprised what Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe refers to as “That Seventies Group.” For historical context, I’ve added WAR (Wins Above Replacement), with the understanding that this was a metric that did not exist when Tiant was being considered for the Hall of Fame.

Average statistics for the 9 starters inducted into the Hall of Fame between 1990-2011
CareerIPWLW-L%ERASOWAR
Avg HOF starters4982.33072400.5602.86367286.8
Luis Tiant3486.12291720.5713.30241666.1
Courtesy Baseball Reference

These nine men (Jim Palmer, Fergie Jenkins, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Nolan Ryan, and Bert Blyleven) were all better than Tiant, every one of them, and by a significant margin for most. It’s for this reason that Tiant never went anywhere on the writers’ Hall of Fame ballots.

However, Tiant easily matches and exceeds the value of dozens of pitchers from the first seven decades of the 20th century who were already in the Hall of Fame before Tiant retired.

 

The next table shows the average statistics of the 11 pitchers inducted from 1967 to 1987 compared to El Tiante’s career.

Average statistics for the 11 starters inducted into the Hall of Fame between 1967-87
CareerIPWLW-L%ERASOWAR
Avg HOF starters37692511750.5883.18225560.8
Luis Tiant3486.12291720.5713.30241666.1
Courtesy Baseball Reference

Now look at the same comparison if you take out Warren Spahn, who skews the numbers with his 363 wins and 92.6 WAR. This is a comparison between Tiant and the other 10 pitchers inducted into the Hall over that 21-year period.

Average statistics for the 10 starters inducted into the Hall of Fame between 1967-87 (excluding Warren Spahn)
CareerIPWLW-L%ERASOWAR
Avg HOF starters3621.32391680.5873.20222357.6
Luis Tiant3486.12291720.5713.30241666.1
Courtesy Baseball Reference

Based on these numbers, which cover 21 years of inductions, Luis Tiant meets the average Hall of Fame standard for a starting pitcher. He had more wins than Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Bob Lemon and Catfish. He had a lower ERA than Robin Roberts, Early Wynn and Red Ruffing. He had more strikeouts than everyone on the list except for Spahn, Drysdale and Bob Gibson.

His WAR was higher than the WAR for everyone on the list except for Spahn, Gibson and Roberts. Based on this, the Hall of Fame for Luis Tiant seems perfectly justified. The problem for El Tiante is that his fellow 1970’s hurlers moved the goalposts to dramatic levels. Tiant and the other two overlooked starters of the 1960’s and 1970’s (Tommy John and Jim Kaat, both of whom also failed in 15 attempts at the BBWAA ballot) have been measured against a standard so high that less than half of the actual Hall of Fame starting pitchers can match it.

The goalposts have not moved back from the standards set by the nine dominant starters of the ’70’s. Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling, both with career WAR above 80, are still waiting to get a plaque in Cooperstown. Of the only five starting pitchers inducted to the Hall since “That Seventies Group,” three of them (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson) surpassed 300 wins. The other two had special circumstances. Pedro Martinez won 3 Cy Young Awards and posted a 153 ERA+, best ever among all Hall of Famers. John Smoltz had a unique hybrid career with over 200 wins and 150 saves.

 

The Cooperstown Case for Luis Tiant 

One of the questions for which an affirmative response should confer a Hall of Fame plaque is the following: “is this the best player at his position not already enshrined in the Hall of Fame?” The answer is certainly “no” for Luis Tiant. But I’m going to ask this question: “is this the best player at his position over a 50-year period not already enshrined in the Hall of Fame?” If the answer to that question is yes for El Tiante, I think you’ve got a great case.

So, here is a list of the ten pitchers who made their debuts between 1920 (the end of the dead ball era) and 1969 (the end of the second dead ball era and the first year of the LCS expansion) who won over 200 games and are credited with a WAR of 40 or above:

Non Hall of Fame SP who, debuted between 1920 and 1969 (min 200 wins & 40 WAR)
PlayerWLWL%ERAIPGSCGSHOSOWAR
*Luis Tiant2291720.5713.303486.148418749241666.1
*Tommy John2882310.5553.344710.170016246224562.3
Jerry Koosman2222090.5153.363839.152714033255657.1
Billy Pierce2111690.5553.273306.243319338199953.1
Bobo Newsom2112220.4873.983759.148324631208251.7
Mickey Lolich2171910.5323.443638.149619541283248.8
Mel Harder2231860.5453.803426.143318125116147.9
Milt Pappas2091640.5603.40318646512943172846.8
Jim Kaat2832370.5443.454530.162518031246145.3
Vida Blue2091610.5653.273343.147314337217545.0
Courtesy Baseball Reference*On the 2018 Modern Baseball Ballot
(NOTE: I excluded the ballpark-and-season-adjusted ERA+ because the numbers closely mirror the pitchers’ actual ERAs and a true Earned Run Average is something we’ve been used to forever).

Next, to better focus our brains, let’s shrink this list down to the only three starting pitchers who made their debuts between 1920 and 1969 who won at least 225 games and are not in the Hall of Fame:

Non Hall of Fame SP who, debuted between 1920 and 1969 (min 225 wins & 40 WAR)
PlayerWLWL%ERAIPGSCGSHOSOWAR
*Luis Tiant2291720.5713.303486.148418749241666.1
*Tommy John2882310.5553.344710.170016246224562.3
Jim Kaat2832370.5443.454530.162518031246145.3
Courtesy Baseball Reference*On the 2018 Modern Baseball Ballot

Tommy John and Jim Kaat are, of course, the starting pitchers who fell just shy of 300 wins and never made the Hall of Fame.

Anyway, back to the question of the moment. Can and should Luis Tiant be elected into the Hall of Fame next month by the Modern Game Committee? First, as I detailed above, I don’t think it’s going to happen. This ballot is actually stronger than the last one in which he got no support at all. John is also on this ballot, as are Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Ted Simmons, Don Mattingly, Steve Garvey, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, and former Players Union head Marvin Miller.

Interestingly, Tiant’s first BBWAA ballot tally of 31% is better than the first ballot results of any of the other eight players except for Garvey (who got 42% on his first try).

The second question is, should Tiant be one of the four men selected by each member the 16-member committee? (Four is the maximum that any voter can cast a ballot for). My answer is “yes.” If the Hall of Fame called me, Chris Bodig, and asked me to choose four Hall of Famers from these ten candidates, Luis Tiant would be one of them. Now, the odds of the Hall of Fame asking me to do this are about the same as the odds of me asked to be Ambassador to Iran or North Korea. Still, if it were up to me, I would choose Luis Tiant as one of my four (keep reading in the upcoming weeks to get the other three names).

In the modern world of analytics, Tiant is an easy “yes” to justify. Among the nine Modern Game candidates who were players, Tiant’s career WAR is second best to Alan Trammell’s. That’s not really my reason, though. WAR is a signpost, not a final destination. For me, it’s more that most of the players on this ballot are Cooperstown worthy and I would choose to honor the oldest, the one who has been tortured by Cooperstown rejection the longest.

Let’s ask another question. Luis Tiant or Tommy John, two great pitchers from a bygone era who were actually teammates in Cleveland in 1964? They’re both on the ballot and there are eight other worthy candidates. Maybe you only want to pick one 70’s starter out of your four choices.

Scroll back up. Look at their numbers.

John had 59 more wins; he started 216 more games, which helped him get those 59 extra wins. He tossed vastly more innings because he pitched until he was 46 years old, aided in part by his bionic arm. Younger readers have probably heard of Tommy John because, yes, he was the first pitcher to get “Tommy John surgery” for a torn ulnar collateral ligament.

Tiant completed more games, threw more shutouts and struck out more batters despite vastly fewer games started and innings pitched. Tiant gave up more home runs because John was the ultimate ground ball pitcher.

Tiant’s WAR is better than John’s, despite over 1,200 fewer innings pitched. WAR is a “counting”statistic, like strikeouts our wins. Still, when it comes to pitchers especially, I’m skeptical of WAR. It relies on defensive metrics for the team playing behind each pitcher. The defensive statistics are calculated for the entire season, with the “good” or “bad” stats distributed among all of the pitchers on the team.

For me, Luis Tiant vs. Tommy John is a coin flip. Admitting that I’m partisan, I’d lean Tiant because John’s advantage on the raw win total is based on the “hang around” factor. In his last seven seasons (his 40’s), he went 51-60 with a 4.43 ERA and a 1.482 WHIP.

Having said that, I would be shocked if Tiant is elected to the Hall of Fame. He’s never had a close call, either through the BBWAA or the various Veterans or Eras Committees. There are some very good candidates who are on the Golden Age ballot for the first time. If any players make it, my guess is that it will be one of the first-timers.

As a long-time Red Sox fan, the eight-year old kid in me is rooting hard for the Fu Manchu mustache wearing, cigar-chomping El Tiante. The 50-year old man in me is resigned to his fate to never get his day in the Cooperstown sun.

Thanks for reading.

Chris Bodig

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