On February 19, 1983, Fernando Valenzuela became the first player to receive a $1 million salary through the arbitration process with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Salary arbitration at the time was still fairly new to the league. It was first agreed to be added to the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in 1972 after the players went on strike. The following season, the owners locked players out for this issue.
They eventually agreed that arbitration would begin after a player was in the league for two consecutive seasons.
Valenzuela pitched his first two full seasons from 1981 to 1982, so he became eligible for arbitration ahead of the 1983 campaign.
The southpaw had already established himself as one of the best pitchers in MLB, posting ERAs of 2.48 and 2.87 with nearly 500 innings pitched over the two seasons and starting what became known as the of “Fernandomania”.
Valenzuela was also named the winner of the National League’s Cy Young Award in 1981, along with the NL Rookie of the Year, so he was set to get a significant raise.
The million dollars received by Valenzuela was almost double the average player salary of $520,839 in the 1983 season and more than 28 times the minimum salary of $35,000.
In the 1983 season, Valenzuela ended up stepping back from his previous two years by pitching to a 3.75 ERA, but he still managed to pitch 257 innings in 35 starts. Valenzuela also won the Silver Slugger Award and made the All-Star Game for a third straight season.
He pitched for the Dodgers for seven more seasons after 1983, before bouncing around the league for his final six years before retiring.
Dodgers mourn the death of Don Newcombe
Also on this day in 2019, the Dodgers announced that Don Newcombe died after a long illness at the age of 92.
“Don Newcombe’s presence and life have established him as a role model for major leaguers across the country,” Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten said in a statement at the time.
“He was a constant presence at Dodger Stadium and players always gravitated to him for his endless guidance and leadership. The Dodgers meant everything to him and we’re all lucky he was a part of our lives.
Newcombe was one of the organization’s last ties to Brooklyn, playing with Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella among the first African-American players in MLB history.
In seven and a half total seasons with the Dodgers organization, Newcombe won Rookie of the Year in 1949, Cy Young and MVP in 1956, and appeared in four All-Star Games.
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