Fernando “El Toro” Valenzuela is undoubtedly the most iconic Mexican baseball player of all time. At the age of 17, the Mayos de Navojoa inked Valenzuela to a contract to compete in the Mexican Pacific League (LMP). Although Valenzuela never appeared with the club, the left-handed pitcher made his mark on the Mexican Center League, competing with the Guanajuato Tuzos, a Leones de Yucatan affiliate.
In his first season with the Tuzos, Valenzuela recorded a 2.23 ERA and amassed 91 strikeouts to lead the Mexican Center League. The Tuzos were then absorbed into the Mexican Baseball League (LMB), where he contended with the Yucatan Lions, registering a 10-12 record with a sublime 2.49 ERA and an eye-popping 141 strikeouts.
Before long, Fernando Valenzuela was discovered by the Los Angeles Dodgers, ultimately signing a $120,000 contract with the club. As a relief pitcher, Valenzuela made his Major League Baseball debut on September 15, 1980. In his 1980 season, Valenzuela didn’t allow an earned run through 17.2 innings, punching out 16 batters.
In 1981, Valenzuela’s official rookie season, he was named the Los Angeles Dodgers Opening Day starter, and the origin of Fernandomania materialized. Through 25 games, Valenzuela recorded a microscopic 2.48 ERA and 1.045 WHIP while amassing 180 strikeouts across 192.1 innings.
For his efforts, Valenzuela earned his first All-Star Game appearance, captured his first Silver Slugger Award, finished 5th in the National League MVP race while being named the 1981 Rookie of the Year and secured the 1981 National League Cy Young Award. In doing so, Valenzuela became the first pitcher in MLB’s rich history to achieve both the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award in the same season.
Valenzuela continued his dominance through the 1980s with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he earned six consecutive All-Star Game appearances, two Silver Slugger Awards, a Gold Glove Award, and remained in the running for the National League Cy Young Award, finishing 3rd (1982), 5th (1985), and 2nd (1986).
Fernando Valenzuela went on to play in the majors for 17 seasons, registering a 173-153 record while compiling a 3.54 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and 2,074 strikeouts across 2,930 innings.
At age 36, Valenzuela retired from the majors after the 1997 MLB season. Though, he returned to professional baseball nearly a decade later for the 2006-07 season with the Águilas de Mexicali in the Mexican Pacific League before hanging up his cleats for good after the 2007-08 season.
Fernando Valenzuela was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame (2003), Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame (2013), and the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame (2014, where he’s left a lasting influence on the Mexican Baseball League and Major League Baseball as the most impactful Mexican-born baseball player to step on a baseball diamond.