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New York is in a state of Linsanity, which brings to mind the craze of one particular rookie phenom.

I am embarrassed to confess that at one time I thought Tom Seaver deserved the 1981 Cy Young Award over Fernando Valenzuela. Seaver had lost one of the closest votes ever to the Dodgers rookie, tying him in first place votes 8-8, but lost on a second-place vote, 70-67. Perhaps it was my sympathy for a great pitcher against an upstart, or simply my natural cynicism about any fad, and Fernandomania! was definitely that, though a bandwagon his fans were right about. I don’t know enough about basketball and the Knicks’ Jeremy Lin to tell you if he’s going to be a flash in the pan or a lasting contributor like Valenzuela was, but the excitement greeting his unexpected rise has some of the same flavor to it.

Thirty-one years later, it’s easy to forget just what an incredible debut Valenzuela had. The chubby 20-year-old had pitched 17 2/3 scoreless innings in relief in 1980 after posting a 3.10 ERA at San Antonio of the Texas League, a circuit in which the average ERA was 4.25. Flash forward to Opening Day 1981, when Jerry Reuss had to pull out of his scheduled start at home against the Astros and Joe Niekro. Instead of substituting Burt Hooton, Bob Welch, Rick Sutcliffe, or any other pitcher hanging around the staff, manager Tommy Lasorda went with the kid. The results were instantaneous, the lefty screwballer pitching a complete game shutout.

From there, it would be about six weeks before Valenzuela didn’t pitch a complete game or even recorded a loss. In his first eight starts, Valenzuela went 8-0 with seven complete games, five of them shutouts. In those 72 innings, he allowed just four runs (0.50 ERA) on 43 hits while walking 17 and striking out 68. He was less fun after that, posting a 3.66 ERA—above the league average—in the 17 starts remaining in the strike-truncated season, albeit with another three shutouts.

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Which baseball player measures up to the Linsanity sweeping the nation?

Football season is over. Spring training is still a few days away. That means, for multi-sport fans like me, there is little choice but to get immersed in college basketball and the NBA. And doing so during the past week meant going Linsane.

Point guard Jeremy Lin emerged as the New York Knicks’ savior, reviving a team that was struggling to stay afloat in the absence of stars like Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. A Harvard graduate who went undrafted and was rejected by two teams, Lin certainly did not take the beaten path to fame, but that only adds to the intrigue of his timely breakout. Hoops Analyst writer Ed Weiland is one of the few who can claim he saw this coming.

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