leads a charmed life these days. As an instructor with the Boston Red Sox, one of six teams he pitched for during his illustrious 19-year major league career, Luis Tiant (nicknamed Looie or, more famously since 1972, "El Tiante") shares his vast knowledge and experiences during spring training while also making the occasional public relations appearance on behalf of the club.
As "El Patriarca" of the Tiant Cigar Group, he gets to combine two of his passions. A cigar smoker since he was 17, the 71-year-old Cuban native works alongside his son, Danny, the founder and CEO of the company that released two new blends of El Tiante cigars in the fall. The senior Tiant seems as comfortable at a cigar tasting as he did on the mound, working the room like a seasoned politician; he moves easily, whether signing autographs, posing for photos, or discussing the finer points on how his cigars are rolled.
Yes, life is good for Luis Tiant. But, it could be better.
He appears to be in a perpetual good mood, cigar in hand, willing to talk about anything with anyone. Until the subject of the National Baseball Hall of Fame is brought up.
Tiant's career numbers certainly warrant induction to the Hall of Fame. He has a career record of 229-172 with an earned run average of 3.30. He had four, 20-win seasons, hurled 49 shutouts and pitched 187 complete games.
He has more victories and a higher career-wins percentage than 26 of the current Hall of Fame pitchers and more shutouts than 49 honorees. The Miami Herald recently published a story showing that Tiant's career statistics compared favorably with 20 Hall of Fame hurlers, including greats like Jim Bunning, Dizzy Dean, Don Drysdale, Lefty Gomez, and Catfish Hunter. [Editors' note: Luis Tiant was inducted to the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1997.]
Yet, he has never received more than 15 percent of the votes in the annual balloting for enshrinement, a fact that seems to puzzle him more than anything else. He is quick to point out that he does not think that any of the Hall's inductees are unworthy of their selection; he just feels he deserves to be in their company.
"I don't want to get upset with anybody, anything like that," Tiant said. "Everybody that knows baseball are telling me I should be in the Hall of Fame. I got the numbers."
Everybody but those who decide such matters, at least. Tiant was on the ballot for inclusion by the Hall's Golden Era Committee but received less than three votes. Ron Santo, who passed away in December of 2010, was the lone candidate selected for induction.
"You're thinking about it, your family is thinking about it, your friends are thinking about it and then, nothing happens," Tiant said. "I had told them don't get too keyed up because I know what's going to happen. When you see all of this happening, it breaks your heart."
Tiant is quick to point out that he does not begrudge Santo his place in Cooperstown. But he questions the timing, especially in the case of the longtime Cubs third baseman and broadcaster, who suffered from deteriorating health in his later years.
"Why didn't you put him in five years ago when he was alive and he can enjoy it with his family?" Tiant wondered. "Why are they telling you that he belongs in the Hall of Fame now? Why not five years ago? He didn't put up more numbers. Apparently, it means more that they go and put in people who have passed on to the other life. They wait until he passed away and put him in? What good is that?
"Hopefully I'm still alive and next time they vote, maybe they put me in. But I don't want it after I die. I told my family, 'It's okay. Like I say, my Hall of Fame is my family. Just put me with them.'"
Tiant was speaking while attending a cigar tasting at the Nat Sherman Townhouse on West 42 Street, the first New York City outlet to sell El Tiante cigars. The company began five years ago with local distribution in New England but re-branded about a year and a half ago, switching to My Father's Cigars in Nicaragua as its manufacturer (and seeking national distribution).
Luis Tiant and son Daniel (left), Founder and CEO of Tiant Cigar Group LLC. |
Photos by Anna Nguyen.
"Everybody knows my Dad has smoked cigars for so long and everybody was asking, 'Why don't you come out with a Tiant cigar?'" said Tiant's son, Danny, who runs Tiant Cigars. "I started thinking about it and said, 'Why don't we?' Once I started learning more about the business and the industry I said, 'I want to do this.'"
"He took it over and he's really doing a great, great job," said Luis, beaming like a proud papa. "And not because he's here and he's my son. I'm watching him all of the time, sometimes I look at him and say, 'Damn, he's doing a lot of work.' I don't know how he does it, but he does it. I like being in business with my son.
"I think he loves what he does and that's more important than anything. I think when you love what you do, you're going to do a better job."
The one thing that both Tiants insist upon is that their brand not be a novelty. As avid cigar smokers, both demand a quality product.
"A lot of people want to make a cigar because they have a name," Luis said. "That can open doors for you but if you don't have a good product they are only going to smoke it one time. I don't want to make a cigar because of my name, then, every place I go, people are telling me the cigar stinks, they are no good."
Despite growing up in Cuba, Luis did not start smoking cigars until he began his professional career in Mexico at 17. And with good reason.
"I never saw any of my friends smoking cigars, even cigarettes," Luis noted. "The problem was if the neighbors see you smoking they tell your Mommy and Daddy and they would make you eat the cigarette. They would beat the shit out of you and then they would ground you, too. You couldn't go out for a week, you couldn't do anything."
Danny also smoked his first cigar at 17 while attending a party when he was in high school.
"As I was smoking it, I felt like him," Danny said. "My best friend, who is still my best friend to this day, looked at me and said 'you look so much like your dad right now.' Later on I found out my Dad's first cigar was at 17. I thought that was pretty cool."
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