The Dodgers announced that they will celebrate the 30th anniversary of "Fernandomania" with two events next week. The team will honor Valenzuela for his magical 1981 season on "Viva Los Angeles Day" at Dodger Stadium and give away commemorative "Fernandomania" bobbleheads next Tuesday night.
Really, it's been 30 years? Really?
Of course I wax nostalgic, because that was my first year covering the Dodgers and Valenzuela's performance was otherworldly. He pitched a shutout on Opening Day after filling in for injured veteran Jerry Reuss and went on to win his first eight starts -- five of them shutouts. Combined with his performance of the previous September, he was 10-0 with an 0.40 ERA in his first 90 innings in the major leagues. Simply amazing.
What people don't remember was how good of a hitter he was. He also helped his own cause during that early run with some big run-scoring hits. Every start was a party, with mariachi bands playing in the parking lots and the stands full of delirious Mexican-American baseball fans.
Here are some Fernando facts from today's Dodgers news release:
-- Since 1945, Valenzuela is the only player in the Major Leagues to win his first eight career starts.
-- In his first 90 innings with the Dodgers from September 1980 through May 14, 1981, Valenzuela posted a 10-0 record and 0.40 ERA.
-- At home, once fans knew Valenzuela’s next start date, the former Stadium Way box office would sell out that game within 24 hours. In 1981, on a game where Valenzuela was not pitching average attendance was 35,000-40,000, while his starts saw an attendance of more than 50,000.
-- On the road, Valenzuela’s starts would also sell out. In anticipation of a May 1981 roadtrip to New York, the Mets built two extra ticket booths near the subway entrances to accommodate the anticipated rush of fans. The crowd of 39,848 was the Mets' largest of the season, they had been averaging 11,358.
-- Also on the road, the Dodgers’ PR department had to set new media guidelines due to the overwhelming media attention Valenzuela garnered. One press conference was scheduled on Valenzuela's first day in each city on the road and another after he pitched.
-- Valenzuela’s starts also affected television ratings. His May 3, 1981 start at Montreal drew a 19.6 Nielsen rating and 59 share in Los Angeles, an estimated 1.2 million adults watching at home. By comparison, the Game 7 Boston-Philadelphia NBA Eastern Conference final that night drew a 3.6 rating and 10 share.
-- Valenzuela remains the only player in baseball history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards in the same season.
-- Valenzuela became the first rookie pitcher to lead the league in strikeouts since Herb Score of the 1955 Cleveland Indians.
-- Early in the 1981 season, reporters called 76-year-old Hall of Fame pitcher Carl Hubbell, the former New York Giants lefty known for his screwball pitch. “The first time I saw Fernando, I knew he was a natural,” Hubbell said. “His delivery is just about perfect.”
-- In early May 1981, Valenzuela was invited to appear on the national television program “Good Morning America” even though he did not speak English.
-- Exactly two months after his Opening Day (4/9/81) shutout in his first Major League start, Valenzuela traveled to the White House in Washington and attended a luncheon hosted by President Ronald Reagan for Mexico’s President José López Portillo.
In the accompanying photo, former Orioles star Dennis Martinez, Valenzuela and Seattle Mariners star Edgar Martinez hold up their trophies after being inducted in the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this year
Reuters file photo