The Los Angeles Dodgers will honor the 40th anniversary of Fernandomania before Sunday’s game against the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium.
Fernando 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 rookie 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 the National League in strikeouts.
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.
Valenzuela’s success as a rookie substantially increased the Dodgers’ following among Southern California’s large Mexican-American community.
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 retired first baseman Steve Garvey.
The plaques honoring the Legends of Dodger Baseball are on display in Dodger Stadium’s new Centerfield Plaza.
On Saturday, the Dodgers paid tribute to their late Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda before their 9-5 victory over the Nationals, showing an approximately 4 1/2-minute video of clips of Lasorda interspersed with recollections of him from Dodger manager Dave Roberts and players on Dodger Stadium’s video board.
The tribute concluded with a video of Lasorda singing “My Way,” the 1969 song popularized by his friend Frank Sinatra.
Lasorda’s daughter Laura made the announcement that precedes every Dodger game at Dodger Stadium, “It’s time for Dodger baseball.”
In the video, pitching star Clayton Kershaw said “one of the great things about Tommy was that he always remembered names.”
Kershaw recalled meeting Lasorda for the first time in 2006. Kershaw had come to Dodger Stadium to sign his first contract with the Dodgers, two weeks after they chose him with the seventh pick in the 2006 MLB draft, and was accompanied by his mother, Marianne, who introduced herself to Lasorda.
“From that day on, I don’t think Tommy ever saw my mom again but he always asked about her by her first name,” Kershaw said. “I thought it was really cool that he met her one time and remembered my mom’s name. I thought that was pretty special.”
Dodger shortstop Corey Seager said “Tommy was incredible.”
“He was one of those baseball figures and human beings you can’t replicate,” Seager said. “What he did for this organization, what he did for baseball and what’s he’s done for so many players is far beyond anything that I’ve experienced, anything that most people have experienced. Tommy was just one of a kind.”
The Dodgers will have a memorial patch on the right sleeve of their jerseys with Lasorda’s name and No. 2 on it throughout the season. It is above a memorial patch for Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton, who died Jan. 18 at the age of 75.
Many items from Lasorda’s office will be available for public viewing throughout the season in various memorabilia displays in the Right Field Pavilion.
Lasorda managed the Dodgers from the tail end of the 1976 season to midway through the 1996 season, guiding them to seven National League West Division championships, four National League pennants and World Series titles in 1981 and 1988. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
Lasorda died Jan. 7 at the age of 93.
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