Fernando Valenzuela

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Fernando Valenzuela Anguamea
(El Toro)

  • Bats Left, Throws Left
  • Height 5' 11", Weight 195 lb.

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Biographical Information[edit]

Fernando Valenzuela was a pudgy, jovial left-handed pitcher from Mexico who became an international phenomenon in his rookie year in the major leagues in 1981, winning the Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year Award. He pitched professionally until the 2007-08 Mexican Pacific League season.

The early part of Valenzuela's career[edit]

Valenzuela began his professional baseball career at the age of 17 with the Guanajuato Tuzos, going 5-6 with a 2.23 ERA. While the ERA looks impressive, the Mexican Center League was a low-offense environment and three team staffs had lower ERAs. He led the MCL with 91 strikeouts. When the MCL was absorbed into an expanded Mexican League in 1979, Valenzuela made it to AAA due to the merger. He appeared with the Yucatan Lions and went 10-12 with a 2.49 ERA and 141 strikeouts. The Liga was also in a period of minimal offense and Valenzuela did not finish among the leaders in any key pitching statistic. He was sold to the Los Angeles Dodgers system and went 1-2 with a 1.13 ERA in a brief three-game trial with the Lodi Dodgers of the California League.


In 1980 Fernando spent most of the season with the San Antonio Dodgers and went 13-9 with a 3.10 ERA; he led the Texas League with 162 strikeouts and was third in ERA. He was called up late in the season and made his major league debut with the Dodgers as a 19-year-old. That year, he appeared in 10 games, all in relief, and did not give up a single earned run, helping the Dodgers to force a one-game playoff with the Houston Astros for the NL West Division title.

In his rookie year of 1981, Valenzuela achieved superstardom and created the Fernandomania sensation. That year, he burst onto the scene, starting the season with an 8-0 record and finishing 13-7 with a 2.48 earned run average and a league-leading 180 strikeouts. He was moved up to be the Opening Day starter in place of an injured Jerry Reuss and pitched a five-hit shutout over the Houston Astros. In his first 8 starts, he went 8-0, with 7 complete games, 5 shutouts and 4 earned runs surrendered in 72 innings, instantly becoming a huge celebrity in Los Angeles, particularly among the city's Mexican population, which had been relatively indifferent about the Dodgers up to that point. He also led all pitchers in complete games (11), shutouts (8), and innings pitched (192 1/3). Not only did he win the Rookie of the Year Award that year, but he became the only rookie to ever win a Cy Young Award, and he finished 5th in the MVP balloting. His rookie season was capped by winning the deciding game of the 1981 NLCS in a memorable pitching duel with the Montreal Expos' Ray Burris and with the Dodgers winning the World Series against the New York Yankees, where Fernando won a game with a gutsy complete game effort in Game 3 after the Yankees had taken the first two contests.

His success was based on the use of a screwball, a rare pitch that made him as effective against right-handed batters as against left-handers. He was just about the only pitcher in the majors throwing the pitch in his rookie season, which explains why it took opposing batters so long to adjust. Even after the pitch was no longer a novelty, it remained an effective weapon, although it took a toll on his arm. One remarkable feature of his pitching motion was that he would look straight up at one point, before turning his head back towards the batter and delivering the pitch.

One of the stars of the 1980s[edit]

Through most of the 1980s, he was among the top pitchers in baseball. He had an ERA of just 2.45 in 1985 and won 21 games in 1986. He was named to the All-Star team every year from 1981 to 1986. In the 1986 All-Star Game, he replaced Dwight Gooden after three innings and proceeded to strike out Don Mattingly, Cal Ripken, Jesse Barfield, Lou Whitaker and Teddy Higuera, before Kirby Puckett managed a ground out. The five consecutive strikeouts matched the record set by Carl Hubbell in the 1984 All-Star Game, and he added a third scoreless inning for good measure.

Sportscasters would marvel at Valenzuela's iron arm. He was used very heavily during the 1980s by manager Tommy Lasorda, pitching at least 250 innings each year in the six years from 1982-1987. But by the end of the decade, his arm began to show signs of overuse, and his performance suffered as a result. The issue was very visible in 1988, when the Dodgers won another World Series title, but he was not used in the postseason, with Orel Hershiser, Tim Belcher and Tim Leary leading the team to victory from the mound. In late 1988 and early 1989, Fernando went through a streak of 19 consecutive starts without earning a win. It is the longest such streak by a former winner of the Cy Young Award; next is Greg Maddux, who went 14 starts between wins with the 2008 San Diego Padres.

He was also one of the better-hitting pitchers in the National League during his prime, twice winning the Silver Slugger Award. In his career, he hit 26 doubles and 10 home runs. In spite of his pudgy appearance, he was a very good athlete, and was used twice as a position player in emergencies by manager Lasorda. In 1982, he played one game in the outfield, and in 1989 he was used once as a first baseman. He pitched a no-hitter in June of 1990, in what was the final highlight of his Dodgers career.

Fernando begins to fade[edit]

In the spring of 1991, after four seasons with a record of .500 or below, Valenzuela was released by the Dodgers. He was picked up by the California Angels, but just over a month later, after 2 starts and an ERA over 12.00, he was let go again. Fernando was very bitter against the Dodgers for dumping him unceremoniously after all he had done for them in the previous decade, and it would be years before he would put the incident behind him and return to Dodger Stadium. In 1992 he was signed by the Detroit Tigers, but his contract was sold to the Jalisco Charros before he even appeared in a game for the Tigers.

Several comebacks and returns to Mexico[edit]

In 1992 he went 10-9 for Jalisco with a 3.86 ERA. The year had begun with losses in games of 11-4, 13-0 and 17-1, and he dropped his first five decisions. In his last outing, the rejuvenated veteran threw a two-hitter.

In 1993 he returned to the majors and had a respectable 8-10 record for the Baltimore Orioles.

He spent most of the 1994 campaign with the Charros, going 10-3 with a 2.67 ERA. In each of his three seasons in the Mexican League he had won 10 games, but with his loss total dropping from 12 to 9 to 3.

Late in the year he returned to the US to play with the Philadelphia Phillies briefly in 1994 and signed with the San Diego Padres in the spring of 1995. He pitched for the Padres for 2 1/2 seasons, making a nice comeback in 1996 with a 13-8 record and a 3.62 ERA.

In 1997, he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in mid-year. He went 0-4 in five starts for them and was released after only a month with the club, ending his major league career. Valenzuela ended his major league career with 2,074 K's.

Valenzuela's post-MLB career[edit]

However, after leaving the major leagues, Valenzuela returned to pitch for several more seasons in the Mexican Pacific League, skipping summer ball to focus on the winter leagues. In the LMP in 2005, he went 4-2 with a 4.31 ERA. A year later, he was with the LMP's Águilas de Mexicali and one of his teammates was his son, Fernando Valenzuela Jr.

Valenzuela was a color commentator for Spanish language broadcasts of Dodger games alongside Jaime Jarrin.

He served as a bench coach for Mexico at the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He was elected to the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame as part of its 2011 class and to the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013. He had gone 1-0 with a 1.05 ERA in three Caribbean Series, in three different decades: 1982, 1993 and 2001.

He was also elected to Mexico's Hall of Fame in 2014, leading the voting in a class that included Daniel Fernández, Ricardo Sáenz and Cuauhtémoc Rodríguez.

On July 22, 2015 he became a U.S. citizen. He became owner of the Quintana Roo Tigers in 2017. In 2019, he was named Commissioner of the Mexican League, a new position that had been created. In 2023, the Dodgers announced that they would retire his uniform number, 34, at a ceremony to be held on August 11th. The number had not been handed out to anyone else after he left the team, and the only thing that had prevented the Dodgers from doing this earlier had been a policy that only members of the Hall of Fame could be so honored. They reviewed the policy and decided that it should be set aside in his case, given how much he had meant to the team and to the relationship with its large Latino fan base. It should be noted that the Mexican League had already paid him the tremendous honor of retiring the number throughout the league in recognition of how much his career had contributed to the profile of baseball in Mexico.


He did not strike out in 11 at-bats against Nolan Ryan though he did fan Ryan four times.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 1981 NL Rookie of the Year Award
  • 1981 Topps All-Star Rookie Team
  • 6-time NL All-Star (1981-1986)
  • 1981 NL Cy Young Award Winner
  • NL Gold Glove Winner (1986)
  • 2-time NL Silver Slugger Award Winner (1981 & 1983)
  • NL Wins Leader (1986)
  • NL Innings Pitched Leader (1981)
  • NL Strikeouts Leader (1981)
  • 3-time NL Complete Games Leader (1981, 1986 & 1987)
  • NL Shutouts Leader (1981)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 4 (1982, 1983, 1985 & 1986)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 1 (1986)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 7 (1982-1987 & 1990)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 3 (1984-1986)
  • Won 2 World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981 and 1988 (he did not play in the 1988 World Series)

NL Rookie of the Year
1980 1981 1982
Steve Howe Fernando Valenzuela Steve Sax
NL Cy Young Award
1980 1981 1982
Steve Carlton Fernando Valenzuela Steve Carlton

Further Reading[edit]

  • Nathalie Alonso: "Teammates still awed by Fernandomania", mlb.com, April 16, 2021. [1]
  • Scooby Axson (USA Today): "Los Angeles Dodgers finally retiring Fernando Valenzuela's No. 34", Yahoo! News, February 4, 2023. [2]
  • Thomas Boswell: "Seasons of the Hill: The Chief, Beginning, Spots in Time" in Why Time Begins on Opening Day, Penguin Books, New York, NY, 1984, pp. 130-135
  • Alyson Footer: "When Fernandomania ruled baseball: Lefty's legacy remains firmly intact 34 years after dominating as a rookie", mlb.com, May 13, 2015. [3]
  • Jeff Katz: Split Season: 1981: Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, Thomas Dunne Books, New York, NY, 2015. ISBN 978-1-2500-4521-8
  • Jordan Mendoza (USA Today): "Los Angeles Dodgers retire Fernando Valenzuela's No. 34 jersey in 'long overdue' ceremony", Yahoo! Sports, August 11, 2023. [4]
  • Jesse Sanchez, Nathalie Alonso and David Venn: "Fernandomania still resonates decades later", mlb.com, April 16, 2021. [5]
  • Erik Sherman: Daybreak at Chavez Ravine: Fernandomania and the Remaking of the Los Angeles Dodgers, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 2023. ISBN 978-1-4962-3101-7
  • Juan Toribio: "Dodgers retire Fernando's No. 34: 'I didn’t think this would happen'", mlb.com, August 11, 2023. [6]
  • Fernando Valenzuela (as told to George Vass): "The Game I'll Never Forget", Baseball Digest, July 1994, pp. 81-82. [7]
  • Vic Wilson: "Fernandomania", in Jean Hastings Ardell and Andy McCue, ed.: Endless Seasons: Baseball in Southern California, The National Pastime, SABR, Number 41, 2011, pp. 94-96.