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.
As training camps wind down, here's a look at news that has cheered each major-league team this March.
Spring training is the time for optimism and dreams. However, with Opening Day just eight days away, the time for wishing and hoping is drawing to a close. Before the party gets spoiled by the natural ebb and flow of the season, let's take a look at one positive occurrence for each of the 30 clubs this spring (to balance things out, on Friday we'll look at the negatives of the spring):
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Dispelling the idea that all hitters reach their prime at the same age.
My grandfather used to say that in heaven, everyone was 25. He figured that was the perfect age in life. You're old enough that you're not a kid any more, but young enough to enjoy everything. Grandpa lived to age 93, and more than six years later, I still miss the guy. This one's for you, Grandpa.
No one will ever wear a Montreal Expos uniform again. Jim Baker wonders who we'll remember as Montreal's last man standing.
Which brings us to the Washington Nationals. Having just departed Montreal, we can begin speculating which man who was once among them will, someday, be the answer to the Expo portion of this question.
The Astros bench leaves much to be desired. The Brewers have a group of prospects that could be making an impact as early as this season. And the A's finally forked over the cash to keep one of their young, productive stars. All this and much more news from Houston, Milwaukee, and Oakland in your Monday edition of Prospectus Triple Play.
Looking Back... We've put off discussing the Astros' bench options this spring since the outlook is, in a word, depressing. They basically have Jason Lane and a bunch of guys who are, um, alive. Technically, anyway. But it's time we got on with it.
The White Sox begin the summer trading season with a bang; the Reds make a great acquisition in D'Angelo Jimenez; Josh Beckett is unleashed from the DL in Florida; and the Royals take a flyer on a man named Gookie (remember him?). All this and much more news from around the league in your Wednesday edition of Transaction Analysis.