Greatest sports figures in L.A. history, No. 9: Fernando Valenzuela
Continuing our countdown of the 20 greatest figures in L.A. sports history, as chosen in voting by our online readers, with No. 9, Fernando Valenzuela.
No. 9 Fernando Valenzuela (53 first-place votes, 1,783 points)
Fernandomania. That's all you have to say to Dodgers fans to bring a smile to their face as they remember the glory days of Fernando Valenzuela.
Fernandomania was born in 1981, when Valenzuela started the season 8-0 with five shutouts and an earned-run average of 0.50. He became a sensation with the fans, drawing sellout crowds at Dodger Stadium, with ticket sales increasing whenever he pitched in other stadiums too, as fans wanted a glimpse of his unusual delivery, with his eyes looking skyward before delivering the ball to the plate. Valenzuela finished 1981 with a 13-7 record and a 2.48 ERA, leading all pitchers in complete games (11), shutouts (eight), innings pitched (192.1) and strikeouts (180). Valenzuela pitched a complete Game 3 of the World Series against the New York Yankees and helped the Dodgers win their first World Series title since 1965. After the season, he was named rookie of the year and won the Cy Young Award, still the only person to accomplish win both in the same year.
Valenzuela was the ace of the Dodgers staff from 1981 to 1987, with his best season coming in 1986, when he finished 21-11 with a 3.14 ERA and led the league in wins, complete games and innings pitched, finishing second in Cy Young Award voting to Mike Scott of the Houston Astros.
At the 1986 All-Star Game, Valenzuela made history by striking out five consecutive American League batters, tying a record set by Carl Hubbell in 1934.
In 1988, Valenzuela won just five games and missed much of the season. He went 10-13 in 1989 and 13-13 in 1990, which was the season of his last great moment, when on June 29, 1990, he threw a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Valenzuela was released by the Dodgers just before the 1991 season. He played part of that season with the Angels and bounced around baseball until retiring after the 1997 season with a career mark of 173-153.
He is currently a member of the Dodgers' Spanish-language broadcast team.
-- Houston Mitchell
Photo: Fernando Valenzuela with the Dodgers in 1981. Credit: Los Angeles Times