22 Aug 2007
Known to many simply as “El Tiante,” Luis Tiant is a baseball legend. With 229 career major league wins, there are many who believe the three-time All Star – one the best big game pitchers of all time – belongs enshrined in the Hall of Fame. (He was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 1997.)
Next month marks the 25th anniversary of the Cuban-born pitcher’s final major league game, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been busy. El Tiante, long an avid cigar smoker, recently launched his own brand of cigars: El Tiante.
In this special edition of our Ask a Cigar Insider series, Tiant took some time to answer my questions about baseball, stogies, and his own special blend of cigars.
SG: How long have you been enjoying cigars? Do you remember your first smoke?
LT: This year is my 50th smoking cigars. I began when I was 17 years old. My first smoke was when I signed a contract playing baseball with the Mexico City Tigers.
SG: Do you ever smoke Cuban cigars these days? What do you think of them?
LT: Yes, on occasion I still do smoke Cuban cigars. They are not what they once were. A lot of them I don’t even finish.
SG: I’ve read you used to smoke cigars during baseball games. Did you sneak off between innings when you were pitching, or did you only enjoy cigars on your off days?
LT: Haha, no I didn’t do that. But I was always pushed by teammates to go out on the mound with a cigar in my mouth. As to the second part of your question, I always enjoyed smoking cigars on the days I pitched and on my days off. Both before the game started and once it ended I would light one up in the clubhouse.
SG: With so many quality cigars out there, why did you decide to make your own cigars? Can you tell us a bit about how you chose the tobacco?
LT: Smoking cigars was always my trademark during my entire professional career. Why not do something now in my later stage in life that I’ve enjoyed for already half a century? I always enjoyed mild cigars which is odd for a Cuban person, but I wanted my cigars to be mild and smooth with lots of flavor. Tabacalera Tambor has done a great job for us finding me blends that fit my taste. For a year straight we went through a process of smoking many blends, mixing and matching until we came to the blends that we use right now for our natural and maduro lines.
SG: What was the greatest challenge in starting up your cigar manufacturing operation?
LT: Finding a manufacturer to make our cigars to my exact specifications and would focus on us, along with the other lines that they produce. Someone who takes pride in their cigars the way I took pride in putting on that baseball uniform for 25 professional years, playing the game I love so much.
SG: How do you keep cigars in your personal humidor? Cellophane on or off?
LT: I don’t have time to keep them in my personal humidor because I smoke them too quickly…When I do put them in my humidor it doesn’t matter to me whether they are in cellophane or not. As long as my humidor is properly taken care of, my cigars will be fine.
SG: In your opinion, what is the best beverage to enjoy while smoking a fine cigar?
LT: I’m a scotch drinker, but when it comes to finding a drink I enjoy with my cigars it has to be either a good glass of port or Cuban coffee. Majority of times when I smoke the first thing I look for is my Cuban coffee.
SG: Finally, a non-cigar question: As a pitcher you were known for your distinctive pitching motion. How did you develop that unorthodox delivery?
LT: I started my career as a power pitcher who got his fastball up into the 96-98 mph range. After a year off from winterball, which in those days was unheard of for Latino players, I had a dismal ’69 season after a great season in ’68 where I went 21-9 with 1.60 ERA. I was traded to Minnesota from Cleveland and suffered an arm injury, which led to my release. My attempt for a comeback went from the Braves organization to Boston where I ended up resurrecting my career. My loss of velocity made me change my style of pitching, and from that came the development of my unorthodox style in order to keep hitters off balance. The rest is history.
Many thanks to Luis Tiant for taking the time to answer our questions. For more information about his cigars, and to find a retailer near you that carries El Tiante, please visit www.ElTianteCigars.com