It was a historical day indeed for the Los Angeles Dodgers. While the organization celebrated their recent championship and the first home game of the 2021 season, April 9, 2021, also marked the 40th anniversary that a young 20-year old pitcher from Sonora, Mexico became an instant icon. After Jerry Reuss injured himself the day before, rookie Fernando Valenzuela was given the honor and took Dodger Nation by storm, sparking Fernandomania. Valenzuela spent part of 11 seasons in Los Angeles with his best years being from 1981-1986.
In honor of the Dodger great and the start of Fernandomania just 40 years ago, here are 3 of his most memorable moments in Dodger Blue.
First Career Start on Opening Day
Valenzuela had made his Major League debut during the 1980 season where he there just 17 2/3 innings out of the pen and allowed just two unearned runs. Who knew that the following season he would be thrust into the Opening Day gig? Dare I say fate?
On April 9, 1981, rookie Fernando Valenzuela replaced injured Jerry Reuss and threw a complete game, 5-hit shutout in his 1st Major League start: a 2-0 win over the Astros.
— Dodgers Archive (@DodgersArchive) April 9, 2021
Making your first career start on Opening Day at 20-years old seems like a nerve-wracking task, yet Fernando’s performance showed no such feelings. As history shows, he took on the challenge by throwing a 5-hit shutout in a 2-0 win against the same Houston Astros that the team had lost to in a one-game playoff for the division. This start sparked an 8-game win streak for him, including 4 other shutouts.
Game 3 of the 1981 World Series
Valenzuela enjoyed an amazing season that resulted in being named the 1981 NL Rookie of the Year and the NL CY Young Award Winner. That wouldn’t be the last achievement for him that year as the team fought its way to the World Series where they faced off against the New York Yankees.
The Dodgers dropped the first two games and were facing an uncomfortable situation if they lost another. However, El Toro did everything he could to ensure that Los Angeles still had a fighting chance. Despite giving up 4 runs, he was able to throw a complete game and earn the win in a 5-4 contest. The Dodgers went on to win Games 4, 5, and 6 to be crowned the 1981 World Series Champions.
After his dominant run from 1981-86, Valenzuela could not find the same success the following seasons due to nagging shoulder issues. His ERA ballooned, his innings pitched declined, and his effectiveness as a pitcher just wasn’t the same. Even through the difficult times, Fernando was still able to show flashes of his old self. One of the most memorable came in his last season with the Dodgers.
On June 29, 1990, Valenzuela further cemented himself in the history books. That day, he threw his first and only no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals while at home in Chavez Ravine. The glorious 6-0 victory would be one of the last highlights of his career with the Dodgers as he was released before the 1991 season, thus ending his tenure in Los Angeles.
40 years ago today, Valenzuela became a Dodger legend. While he never threw hard like pitchers today, his ability to eat up innings and close out games as attested to his 107 complete games (29 shutouts) while with Los Angeles shows how much of a workhorse he was. Although it led to issues later on in his career, no one can think of him without thinking of Fernandomania. The impact he had reached further out than just the game of baseball.
For more on his storied career and the craze surrounding his time in LA, check out the first of a multi-part series put together by the Los Angeles Times.
Check out the first episode of the multi-part @latimes series “Fernandomania @ 40” about the historic career of Fernando Valenzuela. https://t.co/6lErgYMKNV by @ErikHW1 @mrmarkpotts @JessicaQChen @stevesaldivar @GustavoArellano and more!
— Hailey Branson-Potts (@haileybranson) April 9, 2021