Fernando Valenzuela

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Fernando Valenzuela
Fernando Valenzuela in bullpen.jpg
Valenzuela with the Dodgers in 1981
Born: (1960-11-01) November 1, 1960 (age 58)
Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico
Batted: LeftThrew: Left
MLB debut
September 15, 1980, for the Los Angeles Dodgers
Last MLB appearance
July 14, 1997, for the St. Louis Cardinals
MLB statistics
Win–loss record 173–153
Earned run average 3.54
Strikeouts 2,074
Career highlights and awards
Member of the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame
Empty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty Star.svg

Fernando Valenzuela Anguamea (Spanish pronunciation:  [feɾˈnando βalenˈswela] , born November 1, 1960) is a Mexican former professional baseball pitcher. Valenzuela played 17 Major League Baseball (MLB) seasons, from 1980 to 1991 and 1993 to 1997. While he played for six MLB teams, he is best remembered for his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Valenzuela batted and threw left-handed. His career highlights include a win-loss record of 173–153, with an earned run average (ERA) of 3.54. 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. [1]

Mexicans people of the country of Mexico or who identify as culturally Mexican

Mexicans are the people of the United Mexican States, a multiethnic country in North America.

Professional baseball is played in leagues throughout the world. In these leagues and associated farm teams, baseball players are selected for their talents and are paid to play for a specific team or club system.

Pitcher the player responsible for throwing ("pitching") the ball to the batters in a game of baseball or softball

In baseball, the pitcher is the player who throws the baseball from the pitcher's mound toward the catcher to begin each play, with the goal of retiring a batter, who attempts to either make contact with the pitched ball or draw a walk. In the numbering system used to record defensive plays, the pitcher is assigned the number 1. The pitcher is often considered the most important player on the defensive side of the game, and as such is situated at the right end of the defensive spectrum. There are many different types of pitchers, such as the starting pitcher, relief pitcher, middle reliever, lefty specialist, setup man, and the closer.


Valenzuela was signed by the Dodgers on July 6, 1979, and he made his debut late in the 1980 season. In 1981, in what came to be called "Fernandomania," Valenzuela rose from relative obscurity to achieve super-stardom. 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. [2]

The 1981 Major League Baseball strike was the first work stoppage in Major League Baseball since the 1972 Major League Baseball strike that resulted in regular season games being cancelled. Overall, it was the fourth work stoppage since 1972, but actions in 1973, 1976, and 1980 did not result in any regular season games being cancelled. The strike began on June 12 and forced the cancellation of 713 games in the middle of the regular season. The two sides reached an agreement on July 31, and play resumed on August 9 with the All-Star Game, with regular season play resuming one day later.

Valenzuela had the best period of his career from 1981 to 1986. He was named a National League (NL) All-Star in each season and won a major league-leading 21 games in 1986, although Mike Scott of the Houston Astros narrowly beat him out in the Cy Young Award voting. [3] 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. [4] However, for the remainder of Valenzuela’s Dodgers career, his pitching efforts were rendered less effective, largely due to nagging shoulder problems. [5] He was on the Dodgers’ 1988 World Series championship team, but he did not play in the postseason because of his ailing shoulder. On June 29, 1990, Valenzuela threw his only MLB no-hitter, pitching at Dodger Stadium against the St. Louis Cardinals, a 6–0 victory. The no-hitter was notable for being the second one pitched that day; former-Dodgers right-hander Dave “Smoke” Stewart of the Oakland Athletics had just no-hit the Toronto Blue Jays a few hours earlier. [6] Despite having recently shown flashes of his former self, he was unceremoniously released by the Dodgers just prior to the 1991 season. The remainder of his big league career was spent with the California Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, and St. Louis Cardinals.

National League Baseball league, part of Major League Baseball

The National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, known simply as the National League (NL), is the older of two leagues constituting Major League Baseball (MLB) in the United States and Canada, and the world's oldest current professional team sports league. Founded on February 2, 1876, to replace the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (NAPBBP) of 1871–1875, the NL is sometimes called the Senior Circuit, in contrast to MLB's other league, the American League, which was founded 25 years later.

Major League Baseball All-Star Game exhibition game played by Major League Baseball players representing each league

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game, also known as the "Midsummer Classic", is an annual professional baseball game sanctioned by Major League Baseball (MLB) contested between the All-Stars from the American League (AL) and National League (NL), currently selected by fans for starting fielders, by managers for pitchers, and by managers and players for reserves.

Valenzuela retired from baseball after the 1997 season. In 2003, he returned to the Dodgers as a broadcaster. In 2015, he became a naturalized American citizen. [7]

Americans citizens, or natives, of the United States of America

Americans are nationals and citizens of the United States of America. Although nationals and citizens make up the majority of Americans, some dual citizens, expatriates, and permanent residents may also claim American nationality. The United States is home to people of many different ethnic origins. As a result, American culture and law does not equate nationality with race or ethnicity, but with citizenship and permanent allegiance.

Early life

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. [8] 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. [8]

Etchohuaquila human settlement in Sonora, Mexico

Etchohuaquila is a small town within the municipality of Navojoa, in the Mexican state of Sonora. 27°18′53″N109°45′37″W. It is about 25 km (16 mi) southeast of Ciudad Obregón. It is known for being the birthplace and hometown of former Major League Baseball pitcher Fernando Valenzuela.

Navojoa City in Sonora, Mexico

Navojoa is the fifth-largest city in the northern Mexican state of Sonora and is situated in the southern part of the state. The city is the administrative seat of Navojoa Municipality, located in the Mayo River Valley.

Sonora State of Mexico

Sonora, officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Sonora, is one of 31 states that, with Mexico City, comprise the 32 federal entities of United Mexican States. It is divided into 72 municipalities; the capital city is Hermosillo. Sonora is bordered by the states of Chihuahua to the east, Baja California to the northwest and Sinaloa to the south. To the north, it shares the U.S.–Mexico border with the states of Arizona and New Mexico, and on the west has a significant share of the coastline of the Gulf of California.

Playing career

Early career in Mexico

In 1977, Valenzuela began his professional baseball career when he signed with the Mayos de Navojoa. A year later, 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. [9]

Mayos de Navojoa

The Mayos de Navojoa is a Mexican baseball team in the Liga Mexicana del Pacífico.

The Mexican Central League was a Minor League Baseball circuit that operated for 19 seasons from 1960 through 1978 with several clubs based across Mexico.

Triple-A (baseball) Minor League Baseball competition level representing highest level of play

Triple-A or Class AAA is the highest level of play in Minor League Baseball in the United States and Mexico. Before 2008, Triple-A leagues also fielded teams in Canada. A total of 30 teams play in the Triple-A International League (IL) and Pacific Coast League (PCL), with 14 teams in the IL and 16 in the PCL. The MLB-independent Mexican League fields 16 teams. Triple-A teams are typically located in large metropolitan areas that do not have Major League Baseball teams, such as San Antonio; Austin; Columbus; and Indianapolis.

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 threw three balls to Uscanga to fall behind in the count and then threw three straight strikes to strike out the batter. Brito said later that at that point, he "forgot all about the shortstop." [10] The Dodgers finally gambled on the young lefty, buying out his Liga contract on July 6, 1979, for $120,000. [8]

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. [11] 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. [12] In 1980 Valenzuela was promoted to the Double-A level San Antonio Dodgers. There Valenzuela led the Texas League with 162 strikeouts, finishing the season with a 13–9 win-loss record and a 3.10 ERA. [13]

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 tie with the Houston Astros for the Western Division lead, pitching 1723 scoreless innings of relief over the course of ten games, during which he earned two wins and a save. However, the Dodgers then lost a one-game playoff—and thus, the division championship—to the Astros.


The following season, Valenzuela 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. [14] He started the season 8–0 with five shutouts and an ERA of 0.50. In addition to his dominance on the mound, Valenzuela's unusual and flamboyant pitching motion—including a glance skyward at the apex of each wind-up—drew attention of its own. [15] It was a habit he claims to have developed spontaneously, although not until joining the Dodgers. [16]

An instant media icon, Valenzuela drew large crowds from Los Angeles' Latino community every time he pitched and triggered high demand across the country for his rookie 1981 Topps and Fleer baseball card s. The craze surrounding Valenzuela came to be known as "Fernandomania." [17] During his warm-up 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. [14]

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 postseason, Valenzuela became the youngest pitcher to start the first game of a World Series and pitched a complete game in Game 3 against the New York Yankees. [18] In total, he went 3–1 in the postseason 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 9 times in 64 at bats, and he was the recipient of the National League's Silver Slugger Award for pitchers.

"El Toro"

Following his 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. [19]

At the 1986 All-Star Game, Valenzuela made history by striking out five consecutive American League batters, tying a record set by fellow left-handed screwballer Carl Hubbell in the 1934 contest. [20]

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; he posted a 13–13 record 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 Dodgers player, 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.

Post-Dodgers career

Valenzuela with the Angels, June 12, 1991 Fernando Valenzuela 1991.jpg
Valenzuela with the Angels, June 12, 1991

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. [21]

An abortive attempt at a comeback with the California Angels failed later that summer. Valenzuela 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.

The Los Angeles Dodgers invited him to spring training in 1999, but he declined the offer. [22]

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; he was nearly 44 years old at the time. He pitched again in the 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 5 doubles, 1 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, including non-pitchers. 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 home runs, 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. [17]

After retirement

Valenzuela in 2007. Fernando Valenzuela 2007.jpg
Valenzuela in 2007.

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. [23]

Valenzuela also served on the coaching staff of Team Mexico during the 2006 World Baseball Classic, 2009 World Baseball Classic, 2013 World Baseball Classic, and 2017 World Baseball Classic.

He purchased the Mexican League team Tigres de Quintana Roo in 2017.


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.[ citation needed ] In 2005, he was named one of three starting pitchers on MLB's Latino Legends Team. [24] In 2013, he was enshrined into the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame. [10]

As a show of respect, Dodgers clubhouse manager Mitch Poole has unofficially kept Valenzuela's jersey number 34 out of circulation. [25]

On October 26, 2010, ESPN broadcast a documentary commemorating Valenzuela's arrival with the Dodgers titled Fernando Nation as part of their 30 for 30 documentary series. [26]

On October 25, 2017, Valenzuela threw the first pitch at game 2 of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium, introduced by Vin Scully, and joined by Steve Yeager. [27] [28]

The Mexican Baseball League will commemorate the great legacy of Fernando Valezuela on 6 July 2019 and withdraw shirt number 34 from the entire league. [29]

Personal life

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. [30] The couple have four children. [31] One of Valenzuela's sons, Fernando, Jr., played in the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox organizations as a first baseman. Since 2006, Fernando Jr. has played minor league baseball in Mexico or in independent leagues. [32]

Valenzuela became a U.S. citizen on July 22, 2015, at a ceremony in downtown Los Angeles. He has 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.[ citation needed ]

See also

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    Great Scott's power burned brightest in '86
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  6. The Night of Two No-Hitters: Fernando Pitches One for the First Time as He Stymies Cardinals, 6-0 - latimes
  7. Fernando Valenzuela Quietly Affirms His Status as a U.S. Citizen - The New York Times
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  29. Notification of the LMB about the planned award
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Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Burt Hooton
Jerry Reuss
Orel Hershiser
Los Angeles Dodgers Opening Day
Starting pitcher

Succeeded by
Jerry Reuss
Orel Hershiser
Tim Belcher
Preceded by
Dave Stewart
No-hitter pitcher
June 29, 1990
Succeeded by
Terry Mulholland