For a third-year major league pitcher who is still looking for his first 20 -victory season, 22-year-old Fernando Valenzuela sure struck gold in his arbitration battle with the Los Angeles Dodgers. After submitting a bid of $750, 000 for Valenzuela's services, Owner Peter O'Malley will wind up paying him a cool $1 million in 1983. Apparently arbitrator Tom Roberts, who heard arguments from both sides in the salary dispute, based his decision more on Fernando's gate appeal than on his pitching ability, which is also considerable. Part of Valenzuela's magic is that every time he works at Dodger Stadium, average attendance increases by about 15,000 spectators.
Although O'Malley couldn't have been too pleased with Roberts's findings, his only hint of disappointment came when he told reporters, ''I assume you know how many big league pitchers before this decision were making $1 million a season.'' The answer is one - Houston's Nolan Ryan. And after turning in a 16-12 record last year, the Astros have asked the 15-year veteran to take a voluntary pay cut. Ryan has refused, saying that the Astros shouldn't have even brought up the subject.
The trouble with giving any player $1 million is that if he has a poor season , for whatever reasons, about all the club can do is grin and bear it. Valenzuela, of course, is a remarkable left-hander whose ability suffers only on those days when he is having control problems, which isn't often. The fact that Fernando threw 13 home run balls last season, as opposed to only 11 the year before, means practically nothing once you know he also worked 55 additional innings.
If it hadn't been for this season's pro football strike, head coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys probably would never have done that television commercial for the American Express card people. Earlier in the season Landry had turned the offer down because he was too busy with the Cowboys. But when the advertising firm handling the account called again, Tom agreed, then was amazed when filming for the 30-second spot lasted almost a day.
In addition to being a tremendous football coach, Landry is also a survivor. When he began with Dallas in 1960, some of his fellow coaches were named George Halas, Vince Lombardi, and Paul Brown.
Apparently all that is needed now to bring the 1983 Army-Navy football game to the West Coast is the approval of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, who is said to be in favor of the project. The game would be played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Dec. 3. The private funds necessary to underwrite this venture either have already been pledged or are about to be. Ticket prices probably will top off at $25. That's high, but extra money is needed if some 9, 000 cadets and midshipmen are to be transported to Pasadena.
The best coaching job in the National Basketball Association right now is being done by Jack Ramsay of the Portland Trail Blazers. Ramsay, who teaches one of the best trap defenses in the business, has his team battling Phoenix for second place in the league's Pacific Division. While no one can ever be sure how a team will react in the playoffs, the quality of Portland's rebounding has even been felt by the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been beaten twice by the Blazers. Although a lot of people felt that Kenny Carr, who had been with four previous NBA teams before landing in Portland, was talented but rather hard to coach, Ramsay has made working with Carr look easy.
John McEnroe is beet-red with anger over the Davis Cup draw, which has the United States traveling to Argentina in March to defend its title in first-round matches. ''After just winning the cup against France in November, now we have to meet two of the top clay-court players in the world (Guillermo Vilas and Jose-Luis Clerc) on the surface they like best,'' McEnroe steamed. The reason he's so upset is because he has never won a major championship on a slow playing surface like clay.
Mary Decker Tabb, the winner of the Sullivan Award as the nation's outstanding amateur athlete in 1982, got into distance running in a rather unorthodox way. ''When I was 11-years-old and living in Garden Grove, Calif., this girl friend of mine found a flyer from the parks and recreation department that told about a track meet,'' Tabb explained. ''Mostly we read it out of boredom, and when we saw the words 'cross-country race,' we didn't even know what cross-country meant. Anyway we both went down and signed up and the race was fun. Even if I hadn't won, I would still have been captivated by the competition.''