Fear the Fastball: the Best MLB Pitchers of the 1980s

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The 1980s was a great decade for pitching! There was an infusion of tremendous young talent mixed in with the dominant veterans, namely Nolan Ryan. African Americans and Mexicans also joined in on the fun as they boasted two of the Top 5 pitchers in the 80s, and undeniably the two most exciting. All of these pitchers also had cool nicknames that were a reflection of their respective styles and were earned through pure dominance. These are the Top 5 MLB Pitchers of the 1980s:

5 Fernando “El Torro” Valenzuela (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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“Fernando Mania” is what the media named the mayhem that Valenzuela caused at Dodger Stadium every time he started. He had a whipping wind-up and he looked up at the sky right before he threw his infamous fork ball (or any pitch for that matter). Every Mexican kid replicated the wind-up and wanted to be him. He stood at 5’11” and approximately 200 pounds, making chubby sexy during the 80s! Valenzuela went 128-103 with a 3.19 ERA and struck out 1,644 in 2,144.2 innings in the decade. He was a six-time All-Star and was awarded the Rookie of the Year as well as the Cy Young Award in 1981. Valenzuela won a World Series title in 1981 and was a part of the Dodgers team that won it all in ’88, though he was left off of the playoff roster due to injury but was still a vital contributor in the regular season. “Fernando Mania” will be forever remembered and often imitated but never duplicated (Manny-wood, Nomo-mania). Valenzuela is hands down the greatest Mexican baseball player of all-time. 

4 Orel ‘The Bulldog’ Hershiser (Los Angeles Dodgers)

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Hershiser earned the ‘Bulldog’ moniker as a result of his tenacity and competitiveness whenever he stepped out on the mound. He was a fearless pitcher who always wanted to start the big games. He was just as intelligent as he was intense. He currently provides great insight for ‘Baseball Tonight’ and watching him on the show you would never know that he is the ‘Bulldog.’ In the 80s, Hershiser went 98-64 with a 2.69 ERA and struck out 1,011 in 1,457 innings. He was a three-time All-Star and won the National League Cy Young Award in 1988 and also won lone World Series Championship in ’88 with the Dodgers after which he was awarded as the World Series MVP. 

3 Roger ‘The Rocket’ Clemens (Boston Red Sox)

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Believe it or not, Clemens was a beast before he (allegedly) used performance enhancers! Note this is strictly speculation, but the prevailing belief is that Clemens was not on the “stuff” in the 80s. He was a baby-faced kid (and about 50 pounds less than what he was in his last years) who was solidly built but not overweight, but still threw heat in the mid-to-high 90s! In the decade, Clemens went 95-45 with a 3.06 ERA and struck out 1,215 in 1,284.2 innings, tossing 58 complete games with 21 shutouts mixed in. He was a two-time All-Star, two-time Cy Young Award winner, 1986 AL MVP and he also won the All-Star game MVP in 1986. Despite the reputation he earned as a result of the BALCO scandal, Clemens was already a great pitcher destined for the Hall of Fame… he just stained his career with the ordeal and tainted his all of his accomplishments. Regardless, he is right where he belongs on this list. 

2 Dwight ‘Doc’ Gooden (New York Mets)

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‘Doc’ made his presence felt immediately after reaching the big leagues. Amazingly, Gooden only spent one dominating year in the minors before the Mets brought him up to the ‘big show.’ At the ripe age of 19, Gooden crashed the MLB in 1984 like a category 5 hurricane. He went 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA and punched out 268 in 276.2 innings. He also made the All-Star team, led the National League in strikeouts and was awarded the Rookie of the Year — all in just his first season. In the decade he went 100-39 with a 2.64 ERA and 1,168 strikeouts in 1,291 innings. He tossed 52 complete games and 19 shutouts. ‘Doc’ was a four-time All-Star and won a Cy Young Award in 1985 (his second season) and also won the first of his three World Series Championships in 1986 as the Ace of the Mets staff.

1 Nolan ‘The Ryan Express’ Ryan (Houston Astros, Texas Rangers)

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No pitcher in the history of the game was as dominating for such an extended period (first game was 1966 and his last, 1993) of time as ‘The Ryan Express.’ Ryan was the first starting pitcher (and only one ever) that was consistently throwing 100 miles per hour from the first inning to the last. He is unquestionably a once in a lifetime talent with a legendary arm! On October 15, 2012, Ryan threw the ceremonial first pitch before the Rangers played the Yankees in the ALCS, which at the age of 63 is incredible because the pitch was reportedly 80 miles per hour! RIDICULOUS! In the 80s, Ryan compiled a record of 122-104 (he played on some terrible Astros teams and still managed to win 122 games) with an ERA of 3.14 and struck out 2,167 in 2,094 innings. Ryan also threw 44 complete games, 15 of which were shutouts. Ryan was a three-time All-Star in the decade and threw one of his MLB record seven no-hitters in 1981. All things considered, Ryan is arguably the greatest pitcher in MLB history. 

All of these guys MADE baseball in the 80s. When baseball purists look back to the MLB in the 80s, they will automatically think of one of these five guys. Great personalities, incredible arms and fierce competitors made for an exciting decade in baseball! These are the Top 5 MLB Pitchers of the 1980s. Wouldn’t you agree?

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