By Evan Grant
Mexico’s Fernando Valenzuela helped Major League Baseball become one of the most culturally diverse professional sports leagues in the United States.
Valenzuela played most of his professional career for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Before his time in the U.S.A., he played professional baseball in Mexico for the Mayos de Navojoa.
Valenzuela had a very unorthodox style of pitching, unfamiliar to U.S. baseball when he began his career for the Dodgers in the 1980s.
Many U.S. fans don’t know about the figure he became to Mexican baseball fans and Latino fans in the United States.
Valenzuela and his MLB career
After earning Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young award honors during his first MLB season, Fernando took the league by storm. He finished his MLB career with a record of 173-153 with a 3.54 earned run average while striking out 2,074 batters.
With his famed 15-year career, Valenzuela solidified himself as a Mexican sports hero in a country that was not his.
In more recent years, Fernando and his family celebrated becoming citizens of the United States.
While Valenzuela played most of his professional career in the United States, being from Mexico always played a part. He became the first Mexican pitcher to throw a no hitter in the MLB, which he will always be remembered for.
When asked in an interview with ESPN if becoming the first Mexican to pitch a no hitter was something he’d always remember, he said:
Yes, I’ll always remember it.
Valenzuela the icon
Because Valenzuela is an iconic foreign athlete in U.S. baseball history, he’s an inspiration not only to aspiring Mexican athletes but young athletes in the United States.
According to Ido Nahashon, an israeli immigrant playing high school sports:
I look up to him and other guys such as Dirk Nowitzki and Yu Darvish as people who aren’t from America, but made it in American sports.
“Some of my favorite players in the MLB are the ones that aren’t from America. They bring a different style to the game that isn’t what you’re used to seeing,” said Sergio Martinez, a Mexican-American and avid baseball watcher.
Different styles of play and different upbringings have become the reason foreign players have made a dent in the U.S. professional leagues and Fernando Valenzuela paved this path.
(UPDATE: On August 11, 2023, the Dodgers officially retired Valenzuela’s No. 34 jersey.)