On this day in 1983, Fernando Valenzuela became the first player in baseball history to be awarded over $1,000,000 through the arbitration process. The Los Angeles Dodgers young Mexican pitcher had taken the league by storm in 1981, leading the league with eight shutouts and winning the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young and helping the team reach the World Series. He followed that up with a 19 win season in which he threw a whopping 18 complete games. Fernandomania was sweeping through the City of Angels, and the pay raise was much deserved.
Fernando Valenzuela should be regarded as one of the best pitchers of the 1980’s. A case could be made for Valenzuela as the league’s best pitcher between 1981 and 1986. During that six year stretch, he went 97-68 with a 2.97 ERA. He logged 1,537 innings – an average of over 250 per season.
Valenzuela began flaming out towards the end of the 1980’s. Perhaps he would have benefited from a more conservative approach to his innings count. He threw 285 innings as a 21 year old, an approach that certainly would not fly today. In the end, Valenzuela still had an outstanding career, totaling 173 career wins to go along with a 3.54 ERA. He was a workhorse who completed 113 of his 424 career starts. He helped open the door for future Mexican players to reach the Major Leagues.