- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

This has been a great season for rookies, especially rookie pitchers.

Francisco Liriano is the best pitcher in the American League. Jonathan Papelbon is the best reliever. Justin Verlander leads the AL in wins. Bobby Jenks leads the league in saves, along with Papelbon. Jered Weaver won his first seven starts.

In the National League, Florida has four rookies in its regular lineup. Marlins right-hander Josh Johnson is second in the league with a 2.85 ERA.

Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is hitting .290 with 15 home runs and 75 RBI.

And there isn’t a rookie sensation among them.

No Mark Fidrych. No Fernando Valenzuela. Not even a Chris Sabo.

Of course, rookie sensations are a bit like pornography: There’s no real definition for them, but you know one when you see one.

Fidrych was a sight to see: 6-foot-3, 175 pounds, mostly big hair and loose limbs. He talked to the ball, at least that’s how it looked when he talked to himself before every pitch.

The ball listened, and Fidrych went 19-9 for the Detroit Tigers in 1976. He led the league with a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games.

Fidrych wasn’t just Rookie of the Year. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated — and Rolling Stone.

Valenzuela was shaped just the opposite of Fidrych. He was liberally listed at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but most of that was in his midsection.

Valenzuela had a distinctive delivery, with a high leg swoop as he looked skyward. He won his first eight starts, four of them shutouts, and Fernandomania was born. He finished the 1981 season 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA, leading the league in strikeouts and innings.

Valenzuela became the first Rookie of the Year to also win the Cy Young Award, and he helped the Dodgers win the World Series.

Fidrych and Valenzuela both had odd deliveries, as did Dontrelle Willis in 2003.

That’s one characteristic of a rookie sensation — originality — and it’s something Liriano, Papelbon and Verlander just don’t have.

Pitchers are taught to do things the same way today, the right way. That may begat longer careers, more correct ones, but it also makes for less interesting ones.

Another trait of rookie sensations is that they often come from other countries like Valenzuela (Mexico) or Ichiro Suzuki (Japan).

Sometimes they come from cultures which up to that point were not allowed to play in the major leagues.

After all, the Rookie of the Year Award is named after a rookie sensation: Jackie Robinson.

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