(I attended the Paul McCartney concert last night. I won't say it was life-changing, but seeing 35,000-plus people of all ages respond in unison to a 75-year-old playing songs for 3 hours with joy and enthusiasm makes you check your priorities: Life is not about what side you're on. Time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 263rd in a series):
Every year at this time there is conversation about what baseball should do with September call-ups.
I personally don't have an issue with the call-up ritual and can't remember others having an issue with it until the last five years or so. Like many of these "we have to make this fair" topics that now dominate social media, I'm sure some changes will be made. My only hope is that September call-ups will still be a thing to some degree.
Call-ups add an element of excitement to your team's season, whether that team is in the playoff chase or not. If your team is way out of it, you now have a reason to pay attention. And if your team is still contending, well, that call-up could potentially make a name for himself in those few opportunities he has before the season ends.
The most notable September call-up of my lifetime by the Dodgers is Fernando Valenzuela.
He was brought up to L.A. and played his first major league game on Sept. 15, 1980 at age 19. It was in a 9-0 loss against the Braves in Atlanta. Starter Burt Hooton had lasted only two innings, giving up five runs. Valenzuela came in for his debut to start the seventh. He permitted just one hit over two innings. He allowed two runs but they were unearned thanks to errors by Ron Cey (oops) and Derrel Thomas.
That started a chain of 10 relief appearances through the end of the season. Valenzuela was called in to pitch against the Reds, Giants, Padres and Astros. He gained his first save on Sept. 27 against the Padres and achieved his first win Sept. 30 against the Giants.
Not once did he allow an earned run.
On Sept. 19 against the Reds, he took the mound in the fourth inning and retired Dave Concepcion, George Foster and Johnny Bench in order, striking out Bench. He struck out four in three innings.
The appearances grew progressively better. By the time the Dodgers entered a one-game playoff with the Astros to decided the NL West title, there was debate over whether Valenzuela should get his first start over the underperforming Dave Goltz. I wanted Valenzuela.
Goltz started. The Dodgers lost. By the time Valenzuela was brought in to pitch two innings of shutout ball, it was too late.
That was Fernando before Fernandomania. And because I was in on the sensation before it ever really started, I've accumulated a decent share of Valenzuela baseball cards. Today, I decided to see which Dodger Valenzuelas I could add to my collection through a quick online shopping tour.
It turns out I need a fair amount still.
That's exciting to me.
So I've made a few September call-ups of my own. I'll be adding these cards to my rotation and I expect them to be instant sensations.
Although there's only one Fernand Valenzuela card.