Monday, July 9, 2018

I Love The 1990s Cardinals Part 39 - Fernando Valenzuela

Fernando Valenzuela was a really good starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers for the better part of a decade.  In 1981, he won the National League Rookie of the Year, the Cy Young Award, and helped the Dodgers win the World Series.  Fernando was a unique pitcher.  He was short and did not really exude the appearance of a top flight professional athlete, but that's what he was for a long time.

Fernando's best pitch was a screwball, which you do not see very often nowadays.  Hitters could not hit it, at least not during the 1980s.  From 1980 through 1990, Fernando won 141 games and had a 3.31 ERA, which was all worth 33.1 wins above replacement (WAR).  Roughly the same as Whitey Ford's best years.   He was great in the Postseason too.  In 8 career Postseason starts, all during the 1980s, he went 5-1 with an ERA below 2.  Fernando did make a relief appearance in the Postseason, it was actually against the Cardinals in 1996.  

Enough 1980s Fernando.  Let's get to the 1990s.  The decade started out alright for him, especially a start against the Cardinals in 1990 where he pitched a no-hitter.  

Interesting that he got the final out against Pedro Guerrero.  How many games do you think they played together on the Dodgers?  The number is high.

The rest of the decade was unkind to Fernando.  He pitched two games for the Angels in 1991, but was released after a month.  Fernando sat out the rest of the 1991 season, signed with the Tigers in the spring of 1992, but could not crack the roster.  The Tigers finished last in the American League East that season if it gives you an idea about where Fernando was at this point.  

Sorry, no Tigers or Angels cards, but his Wikipedia page has a picture of him on the Angels.  

The next few years would probably be better explained on a map with arrows going in between cities, but I am not going to take the time to do that.  The Snorting Bull is strictly a short writing window. 

So, he went to Mexico and pitched at home in 1992, came back to the US and played for the Orioles in 1993, he then sat out the first half of the 1994 season, but ended up signing with the Phillies in the middle of the season.  The 1994 Phillies were the defending National League Champions, and while expectations were pretty high, only one of their starting pitchers managed to make more than 15 starts.  Really, Fernando was there out of attrition.  

I am going to show you baseball cards with Fernando on the Cardinals, but we can pause for a second on Fernando's time on the Phillies?  You are going to want to see this card, because it is incredible.  

Fernando only won a game for the Phillies and we got a baseball card of him hitting.  One game.  My favorite Fernando cards are the pair of Cardinals that are going to appear later in the post, but this is high on the list.  Really high.  I'd show you the back, but the picture is just Fernando pitching.  

Eventually, Fernando ended up on the Padres.  

He pitched for the Padres during the 1995, 1996, and part of the 1997 season.  Fernando won a total of 23 games in San Diego.  Pretty good total considering that he won a total of 9 games in all the stops in between the Dodgers and Padres.  

You get a Padres card, not as good as the Phillies one, because someone at Upper Deck is good at putting pictures of Fernando batting on baseball cards.  

So, Fernando started out 1997 by going 2-8 in his first 13 starts of the year.  Kind of disappointing since the Padres had been to the playoffs the previous year.  In fact, the whole Padres team was pretty disappointing that year.  Meanwhile, in St. Louis the same types of things were happening.  The Cardinals had been to the playoffs the year before and they were not very good in 1997.  Especially the offense.  

Disappointing team and another disappointing team make a trade?  It was basically just a whole bunch of garbage on the Padres team being traded for a bunch of garbage on the Cardinals team.  So, the Cardinals got Fernando, Scott Livingstone, and Phil Plantier.  Phil Plantier's arm flap was in the trade too.  The Padres got Danny Jackson, Rich Batchelor, and Mark Sweeney.  I think that Sweeney might actually be the best player involved here at this point in their careers.  

Fernando went 0-4 with the Cardinals and made a total of 5 starts.  He gave up 19 runs in 22 innings and he walked 14 batters versus 10 strikeouts.  The Cardinals traded for Fernando on June 13th and they released him on July 15th.  

His last game pitched for the Cardinals was against the Reds.  Fernando did not make it out of the 3rd inning, but did manage to walk the bases loaded twice before he got pulled.  Somehow the Reds only scored three runs.  The game opened by Deion Sanders get a single to the pitcher.  There should be video of such an event.....

Alright.  Time for the cards, both 1998 Upper Deck cards.  

Clearly photoshopped, which is disliked on this blog, but I am going to roll with it.  One thing that Upper Deck used to do, back when they made baseball cards, was put out a "Final Tribute" card of notable players at the end of their careers.  It's the little logo up in the right corner of the card.  If there is a staple Fernando Cardinals card, this is it.  In fact, if you watch the Old Baseball Cards show on Yahoo with Mike Oz, he had CC Sabathia open a pack of 1998 Upper Deck cards in the last episode, and he pulled this card.  Both were surprised that he played for the Cardinals.  

Card back.  

Gives you a good idea about the first half of Fernando's career versus Fernando's second half.  Pretty stark difference.  I like that they have the trade date on the right hand side of the card.  Picture is another airbrush masterpiece.  

Last card.  

This card is a little less common than the Upper Deck base card shown above.  A little surprising since this card is from Upper Deck's Collector's Choice product.  I know Upper Deck is not around now, but if you did not collect cards in the 1990s, this was a really low price point product.  I am not sure if they were even a dollar per pack.  You could find them easily at retail outlets, or you can now buy whole boxes of these for next to nothing on Ebay.  

First, the photoshopping on this card is off.  I actually think that this picture was taken in Busch Stadium, looking at the ads in the background that were above the outfield walls.  Only I am almost sure he was pitching for the Padres at the time.   The Cardinals do not wear blue hats at home, the numbers on the back of the card are off, and the team wears red belts, not blue belts.  I could point out that the under shirt is blue, but I have actually seen a few Cardinals players over the years not wear a red undershirt, including Pujols.  The pants actually look a little on the grey side too, like they did not quite get them white enough while they were airbrushing.    

The card back is great, and very well done, especially given the hitter theme that shows up on the Upper Deck cards during the second half of his career.  

I love the bats over the shoulder.  Great way for Fernando to go out on his last baseball card as an active player.  Again, the hat and turtleneck, how 1990s is that thing, are both airbrushed and I could care less.  I am going to go back through my Dodgers cards to see if I can find more cards of him hitting.  If I find a bunch I am going to make a post out of it.  


  1. I remember him coming to town with Edmonton (Angels AAA affiliate) back when I was a teenager working for an LCS. People were extremely excited about it, like it was a chance to see the baseball equivalent of one of the Beatles.

  2. My only personal memories of him are really from the 80's. Baseball cards prove he pitched during the 90's... but I can't really remember seeing it. I'm getting old.