1988 Dodgers Team Post #2: Alejandro Pena, Tim Belcher, Fernando Valenzuela
I’m making this a combination post since these are the other cards I am going to send out in my first batch along with Steve Sax…plus as much as I am a Dodger fan I don’t always have great stories to tell about each player and that’s the case with these guys.
Alejandro Pena was a staple in the Dodger bullpen from 1981- 1989 when he was jettisoned to the Mets with Mike Marshall for Juan Samuel. Marshall was done but Alejandro had plenty left in the tank and although this will probably not go down as the worst Dodger trade of all-time, I think the Mets clearly did well on this one because Juan Samuel didn’t do much in his two years in blue either. Pena thankfully was spared too much time in New York and was traded again within a couple seasons to the Braves where he was a critical part of their bullpen during their early 1990’s runs and then eventually on to Cleveland where he won another series with the Tribe. He had a 15 season career consisting and over 1,000 innings pitched with a 3.11 career ERA…even in the pre-steroid era he was roughly 20% better than the average reliever and that’s pretty impressive in my book. Plus, earlier in his Dodger career he was a starter and actually led the league in ERA and shutouts in 1984. Not quite Eckersley, but again I’m not sure if that’s because he was that versatile, because Tommy Lasorda didn’t know where to use him, or perhaps he was just better suited coming out of the pen…stats-wise he seemed to do well at both.
Tim Belcher had one of those careers that ended up lasting a while, 14 seasons, and when it’s all said and done he was basically the quintessential average pitcher that other pitchers of the era should be measured against to determine if said pitcher was any good, aka he’s “The Barometer”. Here’s what I mean…he finished his career with nearly identical wins and losses (146-140) and an ERA+ of 101 which makes him just slightly better than the average pitcher of his time. However, back in his Dodger days he was pretty much the second coming and hopefully would be our number three starter behind Hershiser and Valenzuela for years to come…unfortunately around the end of 1991 over a couple too many brews one night at the bar after the winter meetings, Fred Claire got bilked by (can’t believe I’m saying this) Bob Quinn of the Reds. Well at least it wasn’t Jim Bowden. We shipped the Reds Belcher and a young hurler named John Wetteland for a washed up Eric Davis and Kp Gross. Yeah, chalk up another one for the Claire-meister. I liked Fred Claire and all, his book is an interesting read, but our moves in the early 90’s through his tenure are nearly unforgiveable…and to think people give Ned Colleti grief for the job he’s done of late…take a look at the string of absolutely horrible deals that Fred Claire came up with around this time and I think Ned should get a pass…and yes, I do realize it wasn’t Claire that traded Mike Piazza, he gets a pass there and he was still bad at the end. Anyway, like I was saying Tim Belcher was sort of a precursor to Darren Dreifort…except he continued to be relativley healthy and we chose to ship him off instead of show him the money. Belcher was great in the regular seasons of 1988 and 1989, got hurt in 1990, and was average for the Dodgers in 1991 before settling into the same average innings eating pitcher the rest of his career. The funny thing about “average” pitchers is that they are anything but average in my opinion. I’d kill for a guy to just sort of be there reliably for five seasons and make 30 starts…it just doesn’t seem to happen much anymore…or it does but only after you’ve paid them $55 million dollars for five years if you’re lucky.
Fernando Valenzuela probably deserves an entry all to himself, but unfortunately I wasn’t really into the Dodgers in the early 1980’s…as mentioned previously my Dodger history essentially begins with 1988 and although I have knowledge of those who came before the only mania I really got into was Nomo-mania. This saddens me because every source I’ve read tells me that Fernando’s screwball just just devastating and aside from Sax most of my favorite all-time Dodgers are pitchers. I really dig the whole mentality of a pitcher, the whole game of cat and mouse with a batter, the idea of setting up a pitch earlier in an at-bat or even in a previous at bat or better yet…even in a previous at bat in an earlier game. The psychology of pitching is completely fascinating to me. Fernando burst onto the scene in the shortened 1981 season and was basically unhittable until he blew out his arm during the 1988 season. He was only 26 at the time. Can you imagine that? Through age 26 the guy had won 113 games for the Dodgers and thrown an average of over 250 innings per year. It’s clear he was never the same pitcher after his 1988 injury and I’m not sure if he got a ring from the 1988 World Series but he sure as hell deserves it…if anything for past contributions. He bounced back for a couple more seasons in Los Angeles before bouncing around here and there and finally calling it a career in 1997. I’m including Valenzuela in my TTM project even though I am not sure if he got a ring in 1988…he wasn’t on the roster but he seems to be an active TTM signer and I can’t resist going for an auto from an all-time great.
My first batch of four is going out tomorrow…Sax, Pena, Belcher, and Valenzuela. I’ll be working on more as I have time, as I sort my endless stacks of cards which are rapidly overwhelming my home office, and as I find more reliable addresses. I think the next batch might be for those working for current MLB teams like Scioscia, Shelby, and Gibson since they should be able to be sent care of their teams…but maybe spring training would be a better bet on those.