Thursday, September 30, 2010

The mystery of Fernando

Today is the 30th anniversary of the first victory of Fernando Valenzuela's career. I remember the game well, which is difficult for me to do at my semi-advancing age.

The Dodgers were involved in a pennant race with the Astros, and it was six games from the end of the season. The Giants were attempting to knock L.A. out of the race. But boosted by a couple of young hopefuls, Valenzuela and Pedro Guerrero, the Dodgers beat the Giants 6-3 on the strength of Valenzuela's two hitless innings pitched and Guerrero's home run in the top of the 10th inning.

Valenzuela would gain another win before the season was through. Although the Dodgers would end up losing to the Astros in a one-game playoff, I sensed the beginnings of Fernandomania. Valenzuela would become a national sensation the following season and remain insanely popular the rest of his career. He's popular to this day, working for the Dodgers as a broadcaster on L.A.'s Spanish-language station.

But even though Valenzuela remains in the public eye, I am confused as to why he isn't featured on more cards these days. I almost fell over when I pulled this Fleer Greats of the Game card from a package not too long ago. You just don't see Fernando that much in sets that cater to the "those were the days" crowd. The legends sets, etc.

I think there might be few reasons for that.

1. Valenzuela isn't in the Hall of Fame. He may have been more popular than some Hall of Famers -- Hall of Famers who played during the same time period as he did -- but he just didn't have the numbers.
2. Valenzuela's career ended not so long ago. Card companies, especially Topps, like to put old-timey figures in their legends sets. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson. Valenzuela's career is still relatively fresh, not enough time for a lot of people to get the warm fuzzies about it.
3. Valenzuela might not be allowing his image to be used. I think this is the big one, if it's actually true. The only evidence I have on that is this:

Valenzuela crossed out the Topps logo when he signed my card through the mail. This is far from the only case of this. A number of collectors have received cards from Valenzuela with the Topps logo crossed out. But others have received his signature with no markings on the logo.

Obviously, Valenzuela had an unpleasant dealing with Topps in the past. Whether that is still going on or not, whether that had to do with image licensing or not, I'll bet it's the key reason why Fernando hasn't been in that many modern-day sets.

I think the fact that he's not in the Hall plays a big part, too. Although before Andre Dawson was in the Hall, you had no trouble finding current Dawson cards.

I'd like to see more current Fernando cards. His legend deserves to continue on in cardboard. (I've just added a Retired Signatures Fernando and another Greats of the Game Fernando to my online queue).

But even if there are no more new Fernando cards, I'll still have trouble landing all of them. Those Star Sticker things from the late '80s don't seem to end.

Happy anniversary, Fernando!


  1. 4. He breathes through his eyelids

  2. I remember Fernando's 1980 season as well. It was definitely a sign of things to come.

    Looking back, it's cool to look at the stats on his 1981 Fleer and Topps Traded Rookie Cards and see an ERA of 0.00 in a decent amount of games (10) and innings (17.2) considering he was a September call up.

    As far as why he isn't on that many cards, I've heard that his asking price for appearring on cards (as well as signing cards) is way too high.

  3. i have sent that card twice to fernando and he has returned it unsigned both times (the first time i sent it with another card, which he signed, so i assumed he didn't sign it because he only signs one at a time).
    i know mrmopar and i were way excited when he was featured on redemptions for autos and patch cards (some with steve garvey) in fleer's last greats of the game set. sadly, bankruptcy ended any chance of those cards being produced/redeemed.

  4. I wonder if part of the reason Dawson gets more cards than Fernando is that there are probably only a certain amount for each team, and there are a lot more Dodger stars to choose from than Cubs or especially Expos.

    That said, I was at a garage sale a few months ago where a guy was selling a bunch of star single cards. A group of kids about 10 years old were going through them and they were really excited to see a Fernando Valenzuela card, even though they never would have seen him play and he is not in the baseball limelight anymore.