Orioles Take a Shot by Signing Fernando
In the midst of fallout over a team official’s remarks about Mexican ballplayers, the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday signed Mexico’s most famous player, Fernando Valenzuela.
The former Dodger star was signed to a minor league contract and has agreed to come to the Orioles’ camp as a nonroster player.
The Orioles say the timing of the Valenzuela signing was “totally unrelated” to the outcry over remarks made recently by Fred Uhlman Sr., a special assistant to General Manager Roland Hemond who has specialized in scouting Latin American players.
Uhlman’s comments, which basically said Mexicans lack foot speed as a result of their genetic makeup, were made during a discussion of teams from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico during the Caribbean Series.
On Friday, the National Council of La Raza called for the ouster of Uhlman. Oriole President Larry Lucchino said he plans to meet with the organization, which lobbies on Latino issues in Washington, in the next few days. Uhlman, who was reprimanded by Lucchino, has issued a public apology.
The signing of Valenzuela, the team says, was the result of a suggestion by Assistant General Manager Frank Robinson, a scouting report by Uhlman and the persistence of agent Dick Moss.
"(Robinson) mentioned to me about 10 days ago that Fernando was someone we should give some consideration to,” Hemond said. “We checked with (Uhlman), who said, ‘He can pitch better than a lot of pitchers in the major leagues.’
“Then Dick (Moss) approached us. He knew we were looking for additional pitching.”
Uhlman had seen Valenzuela pitch for Mexico during the Caribbean Series.
Valenzuela pitched Mexico’s first game and his team defeated the Dominican Republic, 3-2. However, he was not the pitcher of record, leaving after 6 1/3 innings with Mexico trailing, 2-0.
Former Oriole pitcher Dave Johnson was Valenzuela’s opponent in that game. “I thought he threw well,” said Johnson, who pitched six shutout innings before leaving the game. “We didn’t have the best hitting team, but he moved the ball around, kept it down and busted right-handed hitters inside.
“It looked to me like he was throwing good enough to get (major league) hitters out.”
Hemond’s first reaction when approached by Moss was that he thought Valenzuela was the property of the Mazatlan team for which the left-hander pitched during the Caribbean Series. “When Dick assured me he was a free agent (and didn’t have to be compensated for), we told him we had some interest.
“We then signed Fernando to a (triple-A) Rochester contract and have a prearranged agreement (on salary) if and when he makes the club.”
Manager Johnny Oates was guarded in his appraisal of Valenzuela’s chances of making the Oriole staff. “Who knows?” he said. “We’ll give him a chance and see what’s there.”
Valenzuela pitched 262 2/3 innings in Mexico last summer and this winter but has not appeared in a major league game since 1991, when he was 0-2 in a brief comeback attempt with the Angels.
Valenzuela made his major league debut in 1980. He was called up on Sept. 10 and did not give up an earned run in 17 2/3 innings of relief, compiling a 2-0 record.
In 1981, a season shortened by a strike, he was 13-7 with a 2.48 earned-run average. He became the first player to win the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award in the same season.
He was 19-13 in 1982 and 21-11 in 1986. In 11 seasons with the Dodgers, Valenzuela was 141-116 with a 3.31 ERA.