Wednesday, October 7, 2009

TTM - Fernando Valenzuela

I'm back today with one of my more shocking TTM autographs. A man who took the country by storm and had everyone swept up in Fernandomania, Fernando Valenzuela. I sent this one out just hoping to get it back. Like most of my doubles that I send for sigs if I didn't, no big deal, but when you can add a name like this to your collection it's always good.

Fernando Valenzuela is billed as born on November 1, 1960 in Etchohuaquila, Sonora, Mexico. Like many of today's Latin American stars that date is questionable though as even in his remarkable rookie season many observers guessed him much older than 20. Many teams scouted him in the Mexican Leagues but it was the Los Angeles Dodgers who eventually signed him.

After acquiring Fernando Valenzuela in the summer of 1979, the Dodgers assigned him to the Lodi Dodgers (now the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes) of the High A Level California League, where he posted a 1-2 record and a 1.13 ERA in limited action. In 1980 Valenzuela was promoted to the Double A Level San Antonio Missions. There Valenzuela led the Texas League with 162 strikeouts, and ranked third in ERA. Valenzuela was called up to the Los Angeles Dodger bullpen in September 1980. In the last month of the season, Valenzuela helped the Dodgers to a Western Division tie with the Houston Astros, pitching 17 2/3 shutout innings of relief over the course of ten games, during which he earned two wins and a save.

Valenzuela's efforts made him the odds-on favorite to be the league's top rookie in 1981, and he didn't disappoint, starting the season 8-0 with five shutouts and an ERA of 0.50. Punctuating this dominance on the mound, Valenzuela had an extremely unusual but flamboyant wind-up (looking skyward just at the apex of every pitch), which drew attention of its own. He became an instant media icon, drawing huge crowds from the Los Angeles Hispanic community every time he pitched and triggering high demand across the country for his rookie baseball cards. The craze surrounding Valenzuela came to be known as "Fernandomania."

In addition to his skills on the mound, Valenzuela also made a name for himself at the plate. During his rookie season, Valenzuela batted .250 and struck out just nine times in 64 at bats. That season, and again in 1983, Valenzuela was the recipient of the National League's Silver Slugger Award for pitchers. In 1990, his last season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Valenzuela hit .304 in 69 at-bats, with one home run, five doubles, and eleven runs batted in. In 936 career at-bats - roughly two full seasons worth of at-bats for a full-time position player - Valenzuela had ten home runs and 84 runs batted in. On at least two occasions with the Dodgers, Valenzuela was called upon to play outfield and first base in marathon extra-inning games in which he did not pitch.

Valenzuela was considered an exceptionally good hitter for a pitcher. His best year at the plate was 1990. when he hit .304 with five doubles and 11 RBI in 69 at-bats. His career batting average was .200, with 10 homers, 26 doubles, and 84 RBI in 936 at-bats. Valenzuela was even used on a number of occasions as a pinch hitter, batting .368 (7-for-19) in such situations.

In addition to his 10 years with the Dodgers, Fernando also played for the California Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, and St. Louis Cardinals before retiring in 1997. The Dodgers invited him to Spring Training in 1999, but he respectfully declined. Fernando was also a 6X All-Star, Gold Glove winner (1986) and 2X Silver Slugger award winner (1981, 1983)

Since his playing days ended Fernando has done Spanish-language radio color commentator for the Dodgers and was also a coach for Team Mexico in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic's, and now his biggest honor ever.......being added to my collection. Thank you Mr. Valenzuela!

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