Quick Takes


    Who needs an agent? Not Alex Rodriguez. After opting out of the most lucrative contract in history, he signed an even bigger one, 10 years at $275 million. And no Scott Boras fees to pay. A-Rod is 32 years old now. What a deal! And I thought I was a good salesman. Actually, I made money on the deal, too. I won a lunch bet that Rodriguez would resign in the Bronx; it was the only logical place.


    Times have obviously changed regarding compensation. Steve Carlton is one of the great pitchers ever. He had spent seven years with the Cardinals. After the 1971 season, Carlton, who earned $55,000 that 20-9 year, wanted a $5,000 increase for 1972. $5,000!!! Auggie Busch, in his infinite stupidity, refused and traded the future Hall-of-Famer to the Phillies for the mediocre Rick Wise. That’s cutting off your you-know-what to prove a point. Busch wasn’t too wise!


    There are 32 college bowl games on the slate this season. You have to have one terrible football team not to get a bowl bid of some sort. If it weren’t for our sports books, some of these games would have a zero television rating. As it is, some of them will be damn close to a zero rating. I’m still waiting for the Toilet Bowl in Flushing Meadows; that should be next year.


    Jim Edmonds, 37 and slowed by injuries recently, has been traded by the Cards to the Padres. I have never seen an outfielder make more highlight film catches than Edmonds. He has been an acrobat in the field.


    Bill Parcells is about to subject himself, and his questionable health, to loads of  pressure by leaving the ESPN microphone for the Miami job. Why?  I don’t get it.           


    The George Mitchell steroid report is in. ESPN.com reported that “seven MVPs showed up and in all, 80-some players were fingered, enough to put an All-Star at every position.” So Barry Bonds isn’t the only culprit, as we suspected. Bonds was indicted Nov. 15 on perjury and obstruction of justice charges connected to his testimony before the BALCO grand jury. He pleaded not guilty. Right! Bonds has to be lovin’ this; guys like Roger Clemens are taking some heat off him. Bring on all those asterisks; the latter are richly deserved by these frauds.


Story of the Week



    "Watching Fernando Valenzuela force himself into a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform is something like seeing Kate Smith struggling to fit into a pair of Brooke Shields' designer jeans." - Sportswriter H.G. Reza in the San Francisco Chronicle (1981).


    Fernando Valenzuela was a star left-handed pitcher for six different teams during his MLB career, most notably the Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom he pitched for eleven seasons, from 1980 to 1990. The Mexican phenom had a devastating screwball that helped him win his first eight straight decisions in 1981, Valenzuela, 19 at the time, touched off an early ‘80s craze dubbed "Fernandomania.” That year, Valenzuela became the only player in MLB history to win both the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young Award in the same season.


    Those eight straight wins in 1981 included four shutouts and an ERA of just 0.50. He became an instant media icon, drawing a huge crowd from the Los Angeles Hispanic community every time he was scheduled to pitch, and triggered a mad race to acquire his rookie baseball cards. Valenzuela’s Fernandomania craze in L.A. was absolutely incredible. I lived in L.A. then, and I’ll never forget the impact Fernando had on "la ciudad de Los Angeles." (I can speak Spanish; I just can't speak English.)


    After the 1981 player strike wiped out a third of the season, Valenzuela cooled down a bit but still finished with a 13-7 record, a 2.48 ERA and a league-leading 180 strikeouts. In the post-season, Valenzuela pitched a complete game in Game 3 of the 1981 World Series against the Yankees, helping the Dodgers to their first World Championship since 1965.


    Valenzuela had trademarks which followed him in his great seasons. One was his physique; he was slightly overweight. His round, bespectacled face was instantly recognizable. He was also known for that devastating screwball, which right-handed hitters flailed away at ineffectually. And last but not least, in an era of poor hitting pitchers, he had seasons where he hit better than some Dodgers regulars.


    One of the more amazing stats was Valenzuela's utter dominance against the much hated San Franciso Giants. He was an unbelievable 33-2 with a 1.15 E.R.A. He pitched 10 one hitters against the Giants. Roger Craig once a Giant manager said watching Fernando pitch was like listening to a musical composition of Bach or Brian Wilson.


    Following the outstanding debut, Valenzuela, nicknamed "El Toro" by fans, settled down into a number of years as a workhorse starter and one of the league's best pitchers. He had his best season in 1986, when he finished 21-11 with a 3.14 ERA and led the league in wins, complete games and innings pitched. He lost a narrow vote for the Cy Young Award to the Astros Mike Scott.


    At the 1986 All Star Game, Valenzuela made history by striking out five consecutive American League batters, tying a record set by fellow left-handed screwballer Carl Hubbell in the 1934 contest.


    In 1987, he began to slump, dropping off to 14-14 with a 3.98 ERA. By 1988, when he won just five games and missed much of the season (ironically, in a year in which the Dodgers won the World Series), it was obvious he had a dead arm.


    No longer blessed with his great screwball, he came back in 1989 and went 10-13, improving to 13-13 a year later. He had one last great moment on June 29,1990, when he threw a 6-0 no-hitter against the Cardinals, just hours after the Oakland A’s Dave Stewart threw one against Toronto. In fact, Valenzuela watched Stewart's no-hit game on television and told his teammates he was going to throw one, too. He did!


    Fernando spent 1991-1997 with five other MLB teams. His post-Dodgers career paled by comparison to the  sensational years he spent with L.A. And nothing in L.A. will ever top Fernandomania. And not just in L.A. He became a cultural icon in the Latino communities around MLB. It was estimated that he was personally responsible for road attendance increasing by 9,000 per game when he pitched away from L.A. Unfortunately, Fernando’s pitching in the Mexican Pacific League in the off-season no doubt had an adverse effect on his arm and his MLB career. The latter included 31 shut-outs and a career 3.54 ERA.


    Awards and Honors:
1981 NL Cy Young.
1981 NL Rookie of the Year.
1986 NL Gold Glove.
All-Star Selections.  1981-86.
No-Hit Fame. 6/29/1990. For LA (N) vs. STL (N), 6-0 at LA.
Post-Season Appearances. 1981, 83, 85, 96. One World Series; 1981.


Last Week’s Trivia


    Who won the NFL’s first regular season overtime game? When was it? Actually, nobody won the game. The NFL instituted overtime in its regular season contests for the 1974 season. Yet the very first regular season overtime game ended in a tie. It was September 22, 1974 as Denver hosted Pittsburgh. The final was 35-35.


Trivia Question of the Week


    What fighter won the light heavyweight title in 1997 despite the fact that his opponent knocked him out? Yes, you read it correctly. See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.