#CardCorner: 1982 Topps Luis Tiant
Hall of Fame staffers are also baseball fans and love to share their stories. Here is a fan's perspective from Cooperstown.
It is most fitting that Luis Tiant’s second-to-last Topps card, issued in 1982, shows him wearing the ridiculously gaudy gold and black color scheme of the Pittsburgh Pirates. At the time, no other team looked like these circus performers, as did those last vestiges of the “Pittsburgh Lumber Company.” The Pirates sported the black and gold in every imaginable combination—gold tops with black pants, as seen here, or black tops with gold pants, or sometimes black tops and black bottoms, or an all-gold look that made the Pirates look as luminous as Wrigley Field on a sun-splashed day.
In a way, Tiant was a circus act on the mound. With his full windup, the hesitation in his delivery, the 180-degree spin that found him looking squarely at second base, and the willingness to throw the ball from a variety of angles, Tiant brought the flying circus to the pitcher’s mound every time he stepped onto the playing field.
Other than his whirling dervish routine on the mound, another thing that comes to mind with Tiant are those horrendous but humorous hot dog commercials he once filmed in the 1980s. Tiant couldn’t act, but his heavy accent, over-the-top delivery, and willingness to make fun of himself made New York Yankees broadcasts more enjoyable back in 1979 and ‘80. When I think of Tiant, I also tend think of those old newspaper images that show him shirtless, soaking in a hot tub and smoking an enormous cigar. (According to eyewitnesses, Tiant also used to take cigars into the shower with him, which makes me wonder how he kept those cigars from being doused by the hot water.) Tiant always seemed to have something in his hand, whether it was a hot dog, a cigar, or a baseball, as we see him holding on his 1982 Topps card.
When Tiant made his major league debut for the Cleveland Indians in 1964, the native of Cuba fulfilled a dream of playing in the big leagues, completing an ascent that had begun with a stint in the Mexican League. After spending the summer of ’61 in Mexico, Tiant had planned to return home to Cuba, but Fidel Castro banned all outside travel, effectively preventing Cuban athletes from seeking careers elsewhere. Tiant’s father told him not to come home to Cuba; if he did, he would be trapped on the island.