Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Before earning 229 MLB wins, Luis Tiant pitched for Habana

Nov. 23: On this day in 1940, Luis Tiant Jr. was born in Marianao, Cuba.

Tiant, who was elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997, earned his fame in the major leagues, where his 229 career victories rank No. 1 among pitchers born in Cuba.

But before he began his major league career in 1964 with the Cleveland Indians, Tiant pitched one season in the Cuban League.

He went 10-8 with a 2.72 ERA for Habana in 1960-61, the final year of the professional Cuban League. The photo to the right is from Jorge S. Figueredo's book, Cuban Baseball: A Statistical History, 1878-1961.

While playing for the Mexico City Tigers of the Mexican League, the Indians bought his contract in 1962, and Tiant didn't return to Cuba until the making of the 2009 documentary, Lost Son of Havana.

During a 2001 interview, Tiant described how difficult it was for him to have left his family -- including his father, Cuban League star Luis Tiant Sr. -- behind in Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.

"Those first five years, forget about it. I'd be in Puerto Rico or Mexico and whenever there was a party with neighbors -- Christmas, New Year's -- I'd have to leave the party. I'd go sit in my car or go outside to cry. ... I'd start thinking, 'I wonder what my family is eating. What are they doing? I'm here eating well, having a good time. And they're stuck there (in Cuba)."

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