Fernando Valenzuela: Memories of the former Dodgers phenom

A promising young left-hander by the name of Fernando Valenzuela, set the sports world on fire 30 years ago. 'Fernandomania' spurred kids to imitate his unique delivery and famous screwball on baseball diamonds, playgrounds and backyards across the nation in 1981.

Later in his career, the 5 foot 11 inch pitcher, made numerous attempted comebacks from injuries. Those who saw him in his later days with the Philadelphia Phillies, California Angels, Baltimore Orioles, San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals, only caught brief glimpses of the force he had been.

Some of Fernando's best games were thrown at Dodger Stadium.
Wikimedia Commons

Today, he is working in his eighth season as a color commentator for the Dodger's Spanish radio broadcasts.

His 1981 rookie season

The former Mexican League standout, actually pitched briefly for the Dodgers during the 1980 season. Because he only appeared in 10 games, he was still considered a rookie during the 1981 season.

That was good for him and the Dodgers as he won the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young award. His National League leading totals included starting 25 games, completing 11 of them, having 8 shutouts, throwing 192 1/3 innings and striking out 180 batters. He finished the season with a 13-7 record and a 2.48 ERA.

He still holds the rookie record for pitching 35 consecutive scoreless innings. Including his two wins in 1980, he began his career by going 10-0.

He was part of a World Series championship, four-man, rotation during a baseball year that was split in half by a strike. His mound colleagues included Jerry Reuss, Burt Hooton and Bob Welch.

Impressive numbers

His seventeen-year career regular season totals included a 173-153 record, 2,074 strikeouts and a 3.54 ERA.

After 1981, he finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting on three occasions. He was also a six-time All-Star and threw a no-hitter i n 1990.

Valenzuela went 5-1, with a 1.98 ERA, during his post season career. He beat the New York Yankees in the 1981 World Series. He also had a memorable victory against the Phillies, in the 1983 National League Championship Series.

'El Toro' (The Bull) was a good hitter and had a .200 lifetime batting average. He had 187 hits in his career, which included 10 home runs and 26 doubles. He also knocked in 84 runs.

Hey, I got Fernando!

Every young baseball card fan didn't' care whether they got his Topps, Fleer or Donruss baseball cards during those years, just as long as they got one of them.

Valenzuela was one of the better pitchers in the 1980s. He was also one of baseball's more memorable and enduring characters.

Growing up in the Philadelphia region during the late 1970s and early 1980s naturally enabled everyone to become Phillies fans. My friends and I learned the game on little league fields, through trading cards and by playing APBA. Immediately after graduating from Penn State in 1990, I started my career in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons front office. At that time they were the Phillies Triple A farm team. Follow me on Twitter @ SeanyOB

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Updated Tuesday, Jun 7, 2011