LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers revived some of the mania inspired 39 years ago by a young Mexican pitcher before Saturday’s game at Dodger Stadium, where Fernando Valenzuela received a rousing ovation and was remembered for his heart, his grace and for his lasting impact on baseball’s popularity far beyond the walls of Dodger Stadium.
Jaime Jarrín, Mike Scioscia and Mike Brito all participated in the pregame ceremony marking Valenzuela’s Legends of Dodger Baseball induction, which follows those honoring Don Newcombe and Steve Garvey earlier this season.
“He created more baseball fans and Dodger fans than any other player,” Jarrín said of Valenzuela during the pregame festivities. “Thousands and thousands of people from Mexico and Central America and South America, they didn’t care about baseball, they only cared about soccer and boxing. Thanks to (Valenzuela), people fell in love with baseball.”
“Fernandomania” took over L.A. and all of baseball during the 1981 season, when in his first eight starts, Valenzuela went 8-0, pitched seven complete games, five shutouts and allowed only four earned runs in his first 72 innings of work — quickly establishing himself as a cross-cultural icon.
He won both the National League’s Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards and delivered a gutsy 147-pitch victory in Game 3 of that season’s World Series, the first of four consecutive Dodgers wins en route to the championship.
That, he said, is what fans still want to talk about most.
Dodgers fans flocked to the games that Valenzuela was on the mound — 11 of his first 12 starts at Dodger Stadium in 1981 were sellouts. Before that season, the Dodgers had broken the 3 million mark in attendance only twice, but from 1982 to 1986, home attendance eclipsed 3 million every season and the Dodgers broke the Major League attendance record in 1982 with 3.6 million fans.
He said Saturday that he’s pleased to see fans still filling the seats at the ballpark.
“They love baseball, and the numbers tell you how the people are supporting the team, (with) big crowds every game,” Valenzuela said. “And the Dodgers, they have good teams every year and all the fans enjoy good baseball.”
“The first thing I think of is ‘Fernandomania,’ that term,” said manager Dave Roberts, who considers Valenzuela a good friend dating back to his days playing for the Dodgers. “The delivery, looking up at the sky, the screwball, people running on the field, just kind of how much people were in a frenzy to see him, and what he did for the Dodger and obviously the Latin American culture, Mexican Americans, Mexicans … and how humble he is… He was always gracious with me, so I kind of sought him out and he always took the time for me. He’s always been great.”
Congratulations to Fernando Valenzuela on being inducted in the Legends of Dodger Baseball! pic.twitter.com/B6d52Gjie2
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) July 21, 2019
He has a message for fans in the pregame ceremony: “I think 2019, that’s the year for the Dodgers. It’s time to bring a championship back to Los Angeles.” https://t.co/9Vfr1KSs4s
— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) July 21, 2019
MATTERS OF HEALTH
Left-handed pitcher Rich Hill has been on the Injured List for a month with a forearm strain, but he’s shown signs of progress, Roberts said.
“Rich has started throwing, he’s on a throwing program now,” he said. “I understand if all goes well, early September to be back is a possibility — but that can obviously, depending on how it goes, be pushed back a little bit. But he’s starting to throw which is a good thing.”
It appears the Dodgers will have to wait longer for Scott Alexander, a left-handed reliever who’s been on the IL since June 11 with left forearm inflammation — though that’s not the chief concern now.
Explained Roberts: “There’s some stuff going on with the nerve in the thumb, so he just hasn’t had the feel for a baseball in quite some time and when we were kind of trying to figure out why, it was diagnosed as something in his thumb… It’s something that with time, that he can be back to full recovery, but it’s hard to throw when you can’t feel the baseball.”
Roberts said Alexander isn’t expected to have to undergo a medical procedure to treat the issue, which is expected to improve only with rest.
This season, Alexander is 3-2 with a 3.63 ERA (which increased to 6.75 in his past 15 games). Hill is 4-1 in 10 starts with a 2.55 ERA.