Fernando Valenzuela

En route to being named TSN Player of the Year in 1981, Valenzuela, the Mexican star long sought by the Dodgers, ushered in Fernandomania and turned Dodger Stadium into a Mexican fiesta on the nights he pitched. No one had ever broken in quite like Valenzuela. He won his first ten major league decisions and was the first rookie to win the Cy Young Award, and his eight shutouts (including five in his first seven starts) tied the rookie record in a season a third shorter than usual due to the players’ strike. The secret of this phenomenal success was “Fernando’s Fadeaway,” a screwball widely regarded as the best since Hubbell’s. But he was not intentionally emulating Hubbell or even Christy Mathewson, the master before Hubbell. The youngest of twelve children from a Mexican farm family, Valenzuela, who spoke through an interpreter his rookie year, had never heard of either of these Hall of Famers. He learned the screwball from former Dodger Bob Castillo and had even learned to throw it at two different speeds. As it turned out, he would evoke further comparisons to Hubbell in 1986 when he tied his record five straight strikeouts in the All-Star Game. All-Star success was not new to him – he had compiled a 0.00 ERA and 9 strikeouts in 7.2 All-Star innings, including 1981, when he became one of a select few rookie pitchers to be an All-Star starter. Although his rookie success continued all the way to the World Series, when he won his start against Dave Righetti in a matchup of rookies, it would not always be so easy. In April 1986, he became the first to win Pitcher of the Month honors despite a losing record when he went 2-3 with a 0.21 ERA en route to setting a new major league record of 44.1 consecutive innings without an earned run at the start of a season. His Ruthian physique was deceptive, as he was a good all-around athlete. He won a Silver Bat in 1983 and a Gold Glove in 1986, pinch hit on occasion, and even played outfield during a 21-inning game. In 1983 Valenzuela became the first player awarded $1 million in arbitration.