There was nothing in the ’80s like Fernandomania. With that unique windup and nasty screwball, Mexican left-hander Fernando Valenzuela burst onto the scene in 1981 like few pitchers in baseball history. Sure, he pitched a little out of the bullpen late in 1980, but he was still a relative unknown when he made an emergency Opening Day start in 1981.
In his first eight games that season, the 20-year-old threw seven complete-game victories with five shutouts. Today we hear of Stephen Strasburg and his unbelievable start. Valenzuela was on a different level.
In 1981, Valenzuela was the National League Cy Young Award winner and the Rookie of the Year. He also finished fifth in the NL MVP vote.
In the 1980s, few pitchers had a better stretch than Valenzuela’s run from 1981 to 1986. In those six seasons, “El Toro” was 97-68 with 84 complete games, 26 shutouts, a 2.97 ERA and 1,637 strikeouts. In 1986, Valenzuela pitched 20 complete games. That was the last time a Major League pitcher threw that many complete games. He was an All-Star every year during that stretch. He made a commercial for Corn Flakes. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice. What else didn’t he do?
You want clutch, Valenzuela went 5-1 in eight postseason games during the 1980s, with a 2.00 ERA.
Come celebrate the 1980s and the achievements of ’80s stars like Fernando Valenzuela at ’80s Night at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 6 when the Dodgers host the Washington Nationals at 7:10 p.m.