Nearly 50 years before Fernando Valenzuela was born, Ewell (Reb) Russell of the 1913 White Sox pitched eight official shutouts. Today, Valenzuela, 20, officially shares that major league record for rookies.
When Valenzuela and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat Atlanta, 2-0, Thursday night in Los Angeles, he tied Russell and set the National League record, according to official statistics.
But Valenzuela might have beat Russell. The Baseball Encyclopedia, an unofficial publication, credits Russell with only seven shutouts.
A spokesman for the Elias Sports Bureau, one of two sources of official records, acknowledged yesterday that Russell might not have pitched complete games in the eight shutouts. During Russell's career, starting pitchers got credit for shutouts even if they didn't finish games. Nowadays, pitchers must pitch complete games to earn shutouts.
No one knows how many shutouts Russell pitched by today's standards. Chuck Adams of Commissioner Bowie Kuhn's office said that Elias and the Sporting News' records are official, and that no one had questioned them.
Steve Brener, publicity director of the Dodgers, said the riddle is academic because "Valenzuela is going to pitch a ninth shutout anyway."
The previous National League record of seven was shared by Irving (Young Cy) Young of Boston (1905), Grover Cleveland Alexander of Philadelphia (1911) and Jerry Koosman of the New York Mets (1968).
George (Grin) Bradley of St. Louis set the all-time record of 16 in 1876, the NL's inaugural season, when he finished 45-19. Because baseball was played under substantially different rules then, 19th Century records are somewhat informal.