The Los Angeles Dodgers honored the 40th anniversary of “Fernandomania” before Sunday’s 3-0 victory over the Washington Nationals by showing a three-minute-plus video of highlights of Fernando Valenzuela’s 1981 rookie season.
Valenzuela was also joined by family members in making the announcement that precedes every Dodger game at Dodger Stadium, “It’s time for Dodger baseball.”
Valenzuela ignited what would be dubbed “Fernandomania” when he went 8-0 with five shutouts, seven complete games and an 0.50 ERA in his first eight starts as a 20-year-old in 1981, baffling hitters with his screwball, becoming the only player to win the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season and leading Major League Baseball in strikeouts and shutouts.
When Jerry Reuss pulled a leg muscle 24 hours before his scheduled opening day start on April 9, 1981, and Burt Hooton wasn’t ready to fill in, Valenzuela became the Dodgers’ opening day starter, pitching a five-hit shutout in a 2-0 victory over the defending National League West champion Houston Astros.
In the 1981 postseason, Valenzuela was the winning pitcher in the decisive fifth game of the National League Championship Series against the Montreal Expos and pitched a complete game to win Game 3 of the World Series, the first of the Dodgers’ four consecutive victories over the New York Yankees, which gave them their first World Series championship since 1965.
“Sometimes they ask me, `What is your best moment in your career?” Valenzuela said on the video. “I say, `The first game I started in 1981 and the third game of the World Series.”’
Valenzuela’s success as a rookie substantially increased the Dodgers’ following among Southern California’s large Mexican-American community.
“Growing up in East L.A., we would dream about being at Dodger Stadium and watching Fernando Valenzuela,” International Boxing Hall of Fame member Oscar De La Hoya said on the video.
Valenzuela “was a big part” of Mexican culture in Los Angeles longtime major league shortstop-turned-Dodger broadcaster Nomar Garciaparra said on the video.
Legendary Dodger first baseman Steve Garvey said on the video that Valenzuela initiated “a fanatic commitment to the game” among Southern California’s large Mexican-American community.
Retired Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully said on the video “`Fernandomania’ to me looked almost like a religious experience.”
“We would see Hispanic families and little teeny children with them,” Scully said. “I could hear the father and the mother saying to the little children, `See that man out there. He’s from nowhere.’
“You knew that the parents were saying to the children, `Hope. There’s nothing to stop you. You can be as good as that man.’ It was a remarkable atmosphere.”
The Dodgers purchased Valenzuela’s contract from Leones de Yucatan on July 6, 1979, and assigned him to their Class-A California League affiliate in Lodi.
Valenzuela was taught to throw a screwball by Dodger pitcher Bobby Castillo before the 1980 season. Armed with the new pitch, Valenzuela led the Texas League in strikeouts in 1980.
Valenzuela made his Dodger debut in 1980, not allowing an earned run in 17 2/3 innings in 10 relief appearances and posting a 2-0 record.
Valenzuela was a six-time National League all-star and led the league in victories in 1986. He pitched a no-hitter in 1990, his final season with the Dodgers.
Valenzuela was released by the Dodgers during spring training in 1991. He continued to pitch in the majors through 1997 and in Mexico’s winter league through 2006. He has been a Dodger broadcaster since 2003.
Valenzuela was part of the inaugural class of inductees into the Legends of Dodger Baseball in 2019 along with the late Brooklyn Dodgers pitching great Don Newcombe and Garvey.
The plaques honoring the Legends of Dodger Baseball are on display in Dodger Stadium’s new Centerfield Plaza.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: