Valenzuela with the Dodgers in 1981
November 1, 1960 |
|September 15, 1980, for the Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|July 14, 1997, for the St. Louis Cardinals|
|Earned run average||3.54|
|Career highlights and awards|
Fernando Valenzuela Anguamea (Spanish pronunciation: [ferˈnando βalenˈswela]; born November 1, 1960) is a Mexican former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher. During a 17-year baseball career, he achieved his greatest success with the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1980-1990, and went on to pitch for five more major league teams.
In 1981, the 20-year-old Valenzuela took Los Angeles (and Major League Baseball) by storm, winning his first 8 decisions and leading the Dodgers to the World Series. That year, Valenzuela became the only player in MLB history to win the Rookie of the Year award and the Cy Young Award in the same season; he was also awarded the Silver Slugger Award and the Dodgers won the World Series that year. With his youthful charm, devastating screwball, "Ruthian physique", and a connection with Los Angeles' large Latino community, Valenzuela touched off an early '80s craze dubbed "Fernandomania".
Valenzuela was a Dodgers mainstay throughout the 1980s, winning 21 games in 1986 and pitching a no-hitter in 1990, though he was injured during the 1988 championship run. However, he faltered because of injuries in the 1990s, pitching ineffectively for several teams. After one last effective season with the San Diego Padres in 1996 and a short stint with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1997, he retired from MLB.
Since 2003, Valenzuela has worked as a Spanish-language color commentator for the Dodgers.
Fernando, the youngest of twelve children, was born in Etchohuaquila, a small town within the municipality of Navojoa, in the state of Sonora, Mexico. His birth date is officially listed as November 1, 1960, but during his phenomenal rookie season in 1981 several commentators questioned his age, guessing him to be significantly older than twenty.
Early career in Mexico
In 1977, Valenzuela began his professional baseball career when he signed as a professional player with the Mayos de Navojoa, next year he was sent to the Guanajuato Tuzos of the Mexican Central League, posting a 5–6 record with a 2.23 ERA. The following year, the Mexican Central League was absorbed into the expanded Liga Mexicana de Beisbol (Mexican Baseball League), automatically elevating then 18-year-old Valenzuela to the Triple-A level. Pitching for the Leones de Yucatán (Yucatán Lions) that year, Valenzuela went 10–12 with a 2.49 ERA and 141 strikeouts.
A number of MLB teams scouted Valenzuela during this time. Los Angeles Dodgers scout Mike Brito had gone to a game in Mexico to evaluate a shortstop named Ali Uscanga. Valenzuela was pitching against Uscanga when he threw three balls and then three strikes to retire the batter. Brito said that he "forgot all about the shortstop". The Dodgers finally gambled on the young lefty, buying out his Liga contract on July 6, 1979, for $120,000.
Move to the Los Angeles Dodgers organization
After acquiring Valenzuela in the summer of 1979, the Dodgers assigned him to the Lodi Dodgers of the High-A level California League, where he posted a 1–2 record and a 1.13 earned run average (ERA) in limited action. The Dodgers felt that Valenzuela needed to learn to throw an off-speed pitch, so they had Dodgers pitcher Bobby Castillo teach him to throw the screwball before the 1980 season. In 1980 Valenzuela was promoted to the Double-A level San Antonio Dodgers. There Valenzuela led the Texas League with 162 strikeouts, and he earned a 13-9 win-loss record and a 3.10 ERA.
Valenzuela was called up to the Los Angeles Dodgers bullpen in September 1980. In the last month of the season, Valenzuela helped the Dodgers to a Western Division tie with the Houston Astros, pitching 172⁄3 shutout innings of relief over the course of ten games, during which he earned two wins and a save. Dodgers then lost a one-game playoff - and thus the division championship - to the Astros.
Valenzuela in 1981 was named the opening day starter as a rookie after Jerry Reuss was injured 24 hours before his scheduled start and Burt Hooton was not ready to fill in. Valenzuela shut out the Houston Astros 2–0. He started the season 8–0 with five shutouts and an ERA of 0.50. Punctuating this dominance on the mound, Valenzuela had an unusual, flamboyant wind-up (looking skyward just at the apex of every pitch), which drew attention of its own. It was a habit which he claims to have developed spontaneously, although not until joining the Dodgers.
An instant media icon, Valenzuela drew large crowds from the Los Angeles Latino community every time he pitched and triggering high demand across the country for his rookie baseball cards. The craze surrounding Valenzuela came to be known as "Fernandomania." During his warmup routine at Dodger Stadium, the PA system would play ABBA's 1976 hit song Fernando. He became the first player to win the Rookie of the Year Award and the Cy Young Award in the same season. He was also the first rookie to lead the National League in strikeouts. The Dodgers won the World Series that season.
Valenzuela was less dominant after the 1981 player strike wiped out the middle third of the season, but the left-hander still finished with a 13–7 record and a 2.48 ERA. He led all pitchers in complete games (11), shutouts (8), innings pitched (192.1) and strikeouts (180). In the post-season, Valenzuela became the youngest pitcher to start the first game of a series and pitched a complete Game 3 of the 1981 World Series against the New York Yankees. In total, he went 3–1 in the post-season as he helped the Dodgers to their first World Championship since 1965.
In addition to his skills on the mound, Valenzuela also displayed much better offensive skills than most pitchers. During his rookie season, Valenzuela batted .250 and struck out just nine times in 64 at bats, and was the recipient of the National League's Silver Slugger Award for pitchers.
Following the outstanding debut, Valenzuela, nicknamed "El Toro" (the Bull) by fans, settled down into a number of years as a workhorse starter and one of the league's best pitchers. He had one of his best seasons in 1986, when he finished 21–11 with a 3.14 ERA and led the league in wins, complete games and innings pitched. He lost a narrow vote for the Cy Young Award to the Astros' Mike Scott.
In 1987 his performance declined; he earned a 14–14 win-loss record with a 3.98 ERA. In 1988, a year in which the Dodgers won the World Series, he won just five games and missed much of the season. He improved slightly in 1989 and went 10–13, and went 13–13 in 1990. He had one last great moment on June 29, 1990, when he threw a 6–0 no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals just hours after the Oakland Athletics' Dave Stewart had thrown one against the Toronto Blue Jays. According to teammate Mike Scioscia, Fernando and many Dodger players watched Stewart, who was a former Dodger, throw the no-hitter on TV. Afterward, before his game, Fernando said to his teammates, "You just saw a no-hitter on TV, now you will see one in person."
Early in his major league career, Valenzuela had trouble communicating with his catchers because he spoke very little English. Mike Scioscia, after being called up as a rookie, made the effort to learn Spanish and eventually became Valenzuela's "personal catcher" with the Dodgers before becoming the full-time catcher.
After pitching ineffectively in spring training in 1991, Valenzuela was released by the Dodgers. At the time of Valenzuela's release, several Dodgers leaders, including Tommy Lasorda, Fred Claire and Peter O'Malley, praised Valenzuela for creating exciting memories over several seasons and they indicated that it was a difficult decision to release him.
An abortive attempt at a comeback with the California Angels failed later that summer. He signed with the Detroit Tigers in the spring of 1992, but he never played for the team, and his contract was purchased by Jalisco of the Mexican League that summer. He pitched and played some first base when he wasn't on the mound, before making another brief comeback in 1993 with the Baltimore Orioles.
Jumping between the big leagues and Mexico for the next few seasons, he put together one more solid big-league season in 1996 for the San Diego Padres, going 13–8 with a 3.62 ERA. He retired a year later with a final record of 173–153 and a 3.54 ERA as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.
On June 29, 2004, Valenzuela announced he would return to the mound in the Liga Mexicana del Pacífico (the Mexican Pacific Coast League) to play for Los Aguilas de Mexicali in October at which time he was nearly 44 years old. He pitched again that Mexican winter league, during the 2005–06 season.
Valenzuela was considered an atypically good hitter for a pitcher. His best year at the plate was 1990, his last year with the Dodgers, when he hit .304 with five doubles, one home run, and 11 RBI in 69 at-bats. That gave him a 101 OPS+, meaning Valenzuela ranked just above average among all National League hitters that year. In 936 career at-bats — roughly two full seasons worth of at-bats for a full-time position player — his career batting average was .200, with 10 homers, 26 doubles, and 84 RBI. Valenzuela was even used on occasion as a pinch-hitter, batting .368 (7-for-19) in such situations. Twice while with the Dodgers, Valenzuela was called upon to play outfield and first base in marathon extra-inning games in which he did not pitch. He won the Silver Slugger award for pitchers in 1981 and 1983.
In 2003, Valenzuela returned to the Dodgers organization as the Spanish-language radio color commentator for National League West games, joining Jaime Jarrín and Pepe Ýñiguez in the Spanish-language booth. In 2015 he was switched to the color commentator job on the Spanish-language feed of SportsNet LA.
Valenzuela was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame on August 23, 2003, in a pregame on the field ceremony at Dodger Stadium. In 2005, he was named one of three starting pitchers on MLB's Latino Legends Team. In 2013, he was enshrined into the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame.
In 1981, Valenzuela married Linda Burgos, a schoolteacher from Mexico. Early in his career, Valenzuela and his family spent offseasons between the Mexican cities of Etchohuaquila and Mérida. The couple has four children. One of Valenzuela's sons, Fernando, Jr., played in the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox organizations as a first baseman. Since 2006, he has played minor league baseball in Mexico or in independent leagues.
Valenzuela became a U.S. Citizen on July 22, 2015 at a ceremony in Downtown Los Angeles.
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- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- Baseball Almanac
- Baseball Library
- BR Bullpen
- Los Angeles Dodgers Online
|Awards and achievements|
|Los Angeles Dodgers Opening Day
June 29, 1990