Dodger fans have had a tough week. There’s the whole losing a second straight World Series, for starters. Then there’s the impending free agency of Manny Machado and maybe ace Clayton Kershaw.
But November 1 is a day to celebrate. One of the Dodgers’ legendary stars celebrates his birthday. It’s none other than “El Toro” Fernando Valenzuela.
In honor of El Toro’s 58th cumpleaños, here are 10 reasons why we love him:
1. Signed as a pitcher, El Toro shocked fans by showing some pop. He had 10 career home runs and batted .200 over his career. While everyone remembers the ace pitcher, it’s easy to forget the beloved lefty was also an above-average hitter for a pitcher, winning two Silver Slugger awards (1981, 1983). While pitchers are mostly known for being easy-outs, Valenzuela proved otherwise.
2. When there was a bit more on the line, Valenzuela would step up to the plate. Come September and October, when postseason races heat up, Valenzuela was at his (slugging) best. Valenzuela slugged .262 overall during his career, but slugged .346 in September and October including five home runs, 10 RBI and a triple. El Toro had some wheels.
3. People flocked to Dodger Stadium and the team’s road games to catch a glimpse of the Mexican left-hander. Eleven of Valenzuela’s first 12 starts at Dodger Stadium were sellouts. Compared to other Dodger starters on the road, Valenzuela’s games drew more than 13,000 people. Fernandomania was real.
4. To Mexican-Americans, seeing someone like themselves endeared them even more to El Toro. Valenzuela wasn’t your prototypical pitcher. He wasn’t lean, 6-foot-4-inches. He was a portly, 5’11, 19-year-old kid who beat batters with his screwball.
5. El Toro‘s humble upbringing made fans love him even more. Born in Navojoa, Sonora, Valenzuela, he was the youngest of 12 children and raised in a farming community. Not the place you’d expect to find a Los Angeles Dodgers ace.
6. His magical first year, which converted many Latinos into Dodger fans, was well rewarded. In 1981, he became the only pitcher to win the Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year award in the same season.
7. Valenzuela was just as much a gamer as anyone else in the 80s. Per a Sports Illustrated feature in 1985, Valenzuela had a Pac-Man arcade machine in his Los Angeles condo.
8. Fernandomania wasn’t just confined to Chavez Ravine. Valenzuela was an international player, plying his trade in Mexico, the USA and even pitching in the minor leagues in Canada, where he spent time in 1991 with the Triple-A Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League.
9. Like many a Mexicano, Valenzuela was a hard worker; good luck dragging him away from the game. His last professional season was in the Mexican-Pacific Winter League in 2007-2008 at the age of 46. He had four strikeouts in 6.2 innings when he pitched for the Aguilas de Mexicali.
10. It’s tough keeping El Toro away. He was a coach for Mexico in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic and is a Spanish broadcaster for the Dodgers. He continues to give back to the game that means so much to him.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified the state where Valenzuela was born was Sinaloa. We regret the error.
Featured Image: Wally McNamee / Getty Images Sport