Valenzuela with the Dodgers in 1981
November 1, 1960 |
Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico
|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|
|Member of the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
Fernando Valenzuela Anguamea (Spanish pronunciation: [ferˈnando βalenˈswela]; born November 1, 1960), is a Mexican former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher who played seventeen seasons, from 1980 to 1997, for six teams, primarily the Los Angeles Dodgers. He batted and threw left-handed. He has a career won-loss record of 173–153 and a 3.54 earned run average (ERA). Valenzuela was notable for his unorthodox windup and for being one of a small number of pitchers who threw a screwball regularly. Never a particularly hard thrower, the Dodgers felt he needed another pitch; he was taught the screwball in 1979 by teammate Bobby Castillo
Valenzuela was signed by the Dodgers on July 6, 1979 and debuted late in the 1980 season. In 1981, in what came to be called “Fernandomania”, Valenzuela rose from relative obscurity to achieve superstardom. He won his first eight starts (five of them shutouts). Valenzuela finished with a record of 13-7 and had a 2.48 ERA; the season was shortened by a player’s strike. He became the first, and to date, the only player to win both Cy Young and rookie of the year awards in the same season.
Fernando Valenzuela’s best statistical seasons were 1981 through the 1986 seasons. He was named a National League (NL) All-Star in each season and won a major league-leading 21 games in 1986, losing a second Cy Young Award to Mike Scott of the Houston Astros. Valenzuela was also known as one of the better hitting pitchers of his era. He had ten career home runs and was occasionally used by Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda as a pinch-hitter For the remainder of his Dodgers career, however, Valenzuela was less effective due largely to shoulder problems. He was on the Dodgers’ 1988 World Series championship team, but he did not play in the postseason due to his ailing shoulder. On June 29, 1990, Valenzuela pitched his only major league no-hitter in a 6-0 win against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals. The no-hitter was notable for being the second one pitched that day. Earlier, right-hander Dave Stewart of the Oakland Athletics no-hit the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in a 5-0 win. It is the only instance in Major League Baseball history of two no-hitters being pitched on the same day. However, after the season, Valenzuela was released by the Dodgers. The remainder of his career was spent with the former California Angels, the Baltimore Orioles, the Philadelphia Phillies, the San Diego Padres, and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Fernando Valenzuela, 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 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 17 2⁄3 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. On December 20, 2006 in Mexicali, BC, Mexico, Fernando Valenzuela was the starting pitcher for Los Aguilas de Mexicali in the last professional game of his career.
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. Participated in two Tournament of Roses Parades, in 1983 aboard the float from the Government of Mexico and in 2008 aboard the Los Angeles Dodgers' float. In 1981, Valenzuela participated in the East Los Angeles Christmas Parade as Grand Marshal.
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Great Scott's power burned brightest in '86
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|Awards and achievements|
|Los Angeles Dodgers Opening Day
June 29, 1990