Monday, November 14, 2011

#40 Fernando Valenzuela

Card: This is Valenzuela's third Topps card.  His rookie card was a three player card shared with Mike Scioscia and Jack Perconte.

Picture:  Valenzuela is warming up in the bullpen... it looks like San Francisco.  The inset picture has a cool dusky background.

Player: Fernando Valenzuela's professional career began in 1978 at the age of 17 in Guanajato of the Mexican Center League.   The next year the MCL was absorbed into the Mexican League and he found himself with the Yucatan Lions.  Valenzuela pitched well and was sold to the Los Angeles Dodgers.  He pitched in three games for Single-A Lodi giving up ten runs, three earned, in 24 innings of work.

Valenzuela started 1980 at Double-A San Antonio and did well with striking out 162 in 174 innings. He was called up to the Dodgers and made his debut on September 15th.  Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda used the young lefty out of the pen as LA battled the Astros for the NL West lead.  The Astros ended up with the division crown but it took 163 games.  Valenzuela appeared in ten relief appearances and didn't allow a run in 17.2 innings of work.

Valenzuela was tabbed as the Dodgers opening day starter in '81 when Jerry Ruess pulled a calf muscle.  Valenzuela shut out the rival Astros on five hits and was an instant hit. Incredibly, he allowed only four runs in his first eight starts, all wins, five of them shutouts.  By now Fernandomania was in full swing as the chubby young lefty had captured the attention of baseball fans in both the United States and Mexico.  Valenzuela finished the regular season with a 2.48 ERA, 11 complete games, 8 shutouts, and 180 strikeouts, all of which led the National League.  Valenzuela's brilliance continued in the postseason as he went 3-1 with a 2.24 in five starts as the Dodgers defeated the Astros in the divisional playoff, the Expos in the LCS and, the Yankees to win the World Series. Besides winning a ring, Valenzuela also won the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year all before his 21st birthday.

Fernando's 1982 season was a continuing display of his amazing pitching ability.  With his "look to the sky" motion, Valenzuela made 37 starts and won 19 games with a 2.87 ERA. Valenzuela was a workhorse logging 285 innings and completing 18 games and finished third in Cy Young voting.  Valenzuela's ERA jumped to 3.75 in 1983 but "El Toro" was still succewon 15.  The Dodgers captured the NL West and depsite Valenzuela winning a one run eight inning gem in game two, they eventually lost the series to the Phillies.

Valenzuela pitched well in 1984 with a nifty 3.14 ERA, but the Dodgers scored two or less runs in 18 of Valenzuela's 34 starts leading to a 12-17 record.  Fernando started the 1985 season with 41.1 innings without allowing an earned run a record to start a season.  He finished the year winning 17 with a 2.45 ERA.  Valenzuela again pitched well in the postseason, this time allowing only three runs in two starts, earning the game one win against the eventual NL champion Cardinals. 

In 1986 Valenzuela was named to his sixth consecutive All-Star team and made his mark striking out five consecutive AL batters to tie the feat set by Carl Hubbell in the 1934 game.  On the year, Valenzuela won a career high 21 games, completed 20 of his 34 starts and finished second in Cy Young voting.  Valenzuela's ERA jumped up to a league average 3.98 in' 87 and he won only 14 games but once again led the NL in complete games with 12. 

Over the past six years Fernando had been extemely durable averaging 14 complete games and 266 innings per year. The workload caught up with him as he struggled in 1988 and found himself on the DL in August with a shoulder injury and the Dodgers won the World Series without him.

Valenzuela was relatively healthy in '89 making 31 starts with a 3.43 ERA.  Fernando won 10 and worked 196 innings completing just three games as the Dodgers hoped to preserve his valuable left arm.  Valenzula's 1990 season was highlighted by a no hitter against the Cardinals.  It was otherwise a struggle for the 29 year-old lefty.  His 4.59 ERA was a career high and Valenzuela was released by the Dodgers the following spring.

Valenzuela was signed by the Angels and spent time in the minors trying to shake some more magic from his left arm.  He made two poor starts for the Angels in June and was released. Valenzuela signed with Detroit who in turn sold his rights to Jalisco in the Mexican League where he pitched in '92.

Valenzuela returned in '93 with the Baltimore Orioles and although he threw two shutouts, he was often knocked out of games early and finished with an 8-10 record and a 4.94 ERA.  The Phillies gave him a a chance midway through '94 and were careful not to overwork the veteran and he gave up three or less runs in all seven of his starts.  Although handled with care, Valenzuela was again injured and finished '94 on the disabled list.

Despite his injuries Valenzuela had a lot of things going for him.  For one he was still immensely popular, especially among the Mexican communities and attendance spiked whenever he pitched.  Two he was lefthanded, and three his resume from the 80's was still in the minds of general managers throughout baseball.  The San Diego Padres signed Valenzuela for the '95 season where he bounced in and out of the rotation posting an 8-3 record despite a 4.98 ERA.  1996 would a good comeback year for the stocky lefty.  Although by now a five or six inning starter, Valenzuela won 13 games and his 3.62 ERA was well below league average.

Valenzuela was resigned by the Padres but '97 was a struggle.  He was 2-8 with a 4.75 ERA when he was traded midseason to the Cardinals where he went 0-4 in five starts and was released. 

Valenzuela returned to Mexico to pitch and declined a spring training invite from the Dodgers in '99.  Valenzuela played sporadically preferring to play in the winter leagues, playing as recently as 2006 where he was teammates with his son Fernando Jr.

Stuff: Fastball 90 mph in his peak, low 80's after 1988, screwball at various speeds, curve, slider. 

Flipside: Although there were whispers that Valenzuela was born earlier than 1960, the biggest fib on this card is his listed weight of 180 lbs.

Oddball:  Fernando was a decent hitter and won two Silver Slugger awards. For his career he .200 with ten home runs. He also won a gold glove in '86.

History:  This blog is  way too small to capture what Fernandomania meant to baseball fans in in 80's.  The stout Mexican lefty is an icon and legend in Mexico and revered by Dodger fans.  He won two world titles with the Dodgers and won numerous awards throughout his career.  He finished his MLB career 173-153 with a 3.54 ERA, striking out 2,074 batters in 2,930 innings.  

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