Fernando Anguamea Valenzuela swept into California like a swirling Santa Ana to become the first player ever to win Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young Award in the same season. With a 13-7 record, the Los Angeles Dodgers' left-hander led the National League in complete games (11), shutouts (8), innings pitched (192) and strikeouts (180). Most important, his gutsy victory in game three of the World Series started the Dodgers on their comeback to the championship.
Valenzuela did it all with the relaxed air of someone who had just woken up, which was often the case. On opening day he fell asleep on the training table after batting practice, then strolled out to the mound and snuffed the Houston Astros 2-0. By May Valenzuela could boast an 8-0 record and an invitation to the White House to lunch with Reagan and Mexican President José Lopez Portillo. Fernando was asked if he thought he could win the Cy Young Award, which is given to the league's top pitcher. "What's that?" he asked ingenuously.
Fernandomania turned L.A., much of the U.S. and all of Mexico into one big, happy fan club. Valenzuela bubble gum cards, which normally cost a penny, began going for a dollar. Spanish-speaking journalists were suddenly pressed into service, since the pitcher speaks only limited English. He was guaranteed $50,000 from sales of his poster. MGM and Columbia have asked about filming his life story, all 21 years of it. "He should be on Fantasy Island," teammate Jay Johnstone says. "This kind of stuff doesn't happen in real life."
Valenzuela, who was born the youngest of 12 in a four-room house without electricity or running water, seems to be surviving fame. Early in the season he paid $17 for a haircut from a stylist recommended by a Dodger teammate. "That's what I used to pay for a suit," said Fernando. "What this guy has gone through is unbelievable," marvels his manager, Tommy Lasorda. "He's a wonderful person, he's got charisma, and I've never seen anyone make such an impression on the world of baseball."
Success doesn't really surprise the screwballer. "Ever since I started playing baseball," he explains, "I believed that someday I would play in the big leagues. I am especially pleased to have done something for the game because it is a sport I have loved. Many people back home have started going to the ballparks and playing baseball because of what happened to me." He's right. On ragtag diamonds all over Mexico signs have sprouted, "Fernando Played Here." "It is a responsibility," says Fernando, "having so many children look up to me. I am afraid they will think only of baseball. I would like them to go to school, because I would like to have had more schooling myself." He quit at 15.
In the off-season Valenzuela is making personal appearances and will play winter ball in Mexico. Though the chunky 5'11", 180-pound pitcher isn't noted for his speed, he undoubtedly was the biggest steal in baseball last season, earning a bargain-basement $42,500. So Fernando and his agent have started negotiations for a 1982 contract with a modest request: "The first thing they want," smiles Lasorda, "is Texas back."
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