Fernando Valenzuela had a knack for helping usher in big changes in baseball, and in baseball cards.

Consider …

Just as MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) were tightening their grips on each other’s throats in a battle that would cancel the middle of the 1981 season, Fernando was lighting up National League hitters as the most electric rookie pitcher since Mark Fidrych.

But unlike The Bird, Valenzuela pitched for the vaunted Los Angeles Dodgers, who would go on the win the World Series that fall after baseball’s “split season” strangeness.

Not long after L.A. drained their championship champagne, Fernando headlined Topps’ first-ever dedicated and standalone “Traded” set, released as a 132-card box issue and featuring the phenom lefthander on his first solo Topps card.

For his efforts that season, Fernando would win NL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young honors and finish fifth in MVP balloting.

Not a bad beginning!

Over the next nine seasons, Fernando would have his ups and downs, but he generally established himself in the upper reaches of starting pitchers, if not always the ace of aces, then at least a strong All-Star candidate.

By 1990, though, Valenzuela was starting to show the toll of a heavy workload, and his ERA climbed to a fairly unsightly — for him and for Dodgers starters in general — 4.59.

He did throw his only no-hitter that summer, and L.A. re-signed him as a free agent that winter … then released him outright after a rough Spring Training.

That was way too late for card companies to change their Fernando plans, of course, and we got one last shot of a 1980s legend in Dodgers Blue.

Find Fernando cards on eBay (affiliate link)

Find Fernando cards on Amazon (affiliate link)

After languishing outside baseball for a couple months, Fernando found a new opportunity when the crosstown California Angels signed him to a free agent deal in May — they gave him a two-game shot in the bigs in June before sending him down to the minors.

During that spring of Fernando’s discontent, Topps was preparing to shake up the hobby like they hadn’t done in years, gearing up to unleash the super premium Stadium Club issue into the wilds.

To help flame the fires of anticipation and judge initial reaction, the gum company whipped together a 50-card set of promo cards featuring oversize versions of the base set but with extra gold piping on the front and … well … a miniature version of the 1986 Topps Traded Jose Canseco card on the back.

And guess who made the cut?

Yeah, Fernando was back to mark another hobby milestone, ten years after helping kick off the 1980s hobby boom.

It was one last reminder of how just important Fernandomania had been, and just how fast fortunes can change.

Wow! Wax of the Day

At the other end of the 1991 Stadium Club spectrum from the Fernando was the Skydome Set, like the one offered in this eBay lot.

Officially a 1991 release, it didn’t actually hit the hobby until March 1992 but was a popular buy, chock full of rookies and player updates as it was.

Check out the full listing right here (affiliate link).

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