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A day after he was released, Valenzuela said, "I have heard people talk about me as if I am dead. I am not dead. In the 1980s I won with the Dodgers. In the '90s I will win with another team." He won't beg for a job, though. "If they call me in June or July, I will say, 'Sorry, I'm on the back nine.' "
Over the years, Valenzuela has come to embrace many new things, including golf. His English vocabulary is now excellent, and he has been very active in a stay-in-school program. He would be a credit to any organization, whether he could pitch or not.
Valenzuela did have one last glorious moment in Dodger blue. It came in a March 17 exhibition game with Milwaukee in Monterrey, Mexico. A sellout crowd of 29,000 came to see him pitch, and cheered wildly as he stymied the Brewers for five innings. He also got a single. After the game, Dodger owner Peter O'Malley said, "We all knew of Fernando's popularity in his country, but to come down here and see it, hear it, feel it...it is one of the most extraordinary moments in my time with the Dodgers."
When Phil Mahre retired (sort of) last week, he did it with little fanfare and a lot of class. But then he has always been an unspoiled superstar who insisted on shining the light of truth on just about every aspect of his career.
At the moment of his most celebrated triumph—winning the gold medal in the slalom at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo—Mahre said, "This, to me, is just another victory. It's wrong to say this is the best day of my life. If it were, what am I going to do with the rest of my life?"
At the end of that season, he retired from World Cup competition. He was 27, indisputably the finest male ski racer the U.S. had ever produced and the winner of three consecutive overall World Cups. He went home to Yakima, Wash., and started a ski instruction and apparel business with his twin brother, Steve, the second finest American male skier ever. In 1988 the twins took up the very expensive hobby of car racing. So Phil and Steve went back to ski racing, this time joining the struggling U.S. Pro Tour.
The Mahre names did wonders for the gate, and Phil won a fair number of races. But he has never been impressed with the competition on the tour. "I'm definitely a has-been," he said after winning a race earlier this year, "and they're all never-weres."
Last week, Phil won the overall Plymouth Super Series slalom for the year at Steamboat Springs, Colo., and declared that, at 33, he was through—again—with ski racing. "It's old hat," he said. "Oh, I might ski-race a few times, but only to make money for our cars."
Phil astonished car racers last season by winning the eight-race American City series in the Sports 2000 class. This year the twins are moving up to the GT-1 circuit for Trans-Am cars. Phil is every bit as blunt about his new career as he was about his old: "I expect to make only enough to pay the bills. But I've never lost sleep over winning or losing before, and I'm not going to start now."