The first few cheers came well before the official ceremony started.
Fernando Valenzuela was walking across the club-level concourse Saturday, making the few short steps between the Vin Scully press box and Dodger Stadium elevator. But on the night the Dodger legend officially joined the “Legends of Dodger Baseball” –- becoming the third inductee into the franchise’s new honorary club –- his presence alone was enough to draw a swarm of adoring fans.
By the time Valenzuela stepped onto the field and to the podium, delivering a succinctly stirring speech to an early arriving crowd, Chavez Ravine was whipped into Fernandomania again.
“If it wasn’t for you guys sitting in the stands,” Valenzuela said with a wide smile, “nothing would have happened.”
Valenzuela’s wife, daughters, and grandchildren, as well as former Dodgers catcher Mike Scioscia, Spanish language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, and scout Mike Brito, sat by his side as he joined Don Newcombe and Steve Garvey in the inaugural class of the “Legends of Dodger Baseball.”
“I never caught anyone who could do more with a baseball than Fernando,” said Scioscia, Valenzuela’s former teammate and the catcher of his no-hitter in 1990.
“Fernando went out on the mound fearless, made pitches on any count . . . with a confidence you just don’t see.”
Valenzuela won 173 games and posted a 3.54 ERA during his 17 big league seasons, 11 of which were spent with the Dodgers from 1980-1990. He anchored some of the franchise’s most dominant pitching staffs, went to the All-Star Game six times, and won both the Cy Young Award and rookie of the year in 1981.
“I’ve been asked many times, ‘What is the best moment in my career?’” Valenzuela said. “Right away, I say, ‘The 1981 World Series.’ I think that’s the best moment for me.”
That 1981 season, when “Fernandomania” took hold of the city after Valenzuela’s eight consecutive complete-game wins to begin the season, is etched in baseball lore. It was the moment the world was introduced to the thick left-hander from a small town in Mexico, his unique delivery in which he’d briefly roll his eyes to the sky for a quick glance at the heavens, and his looping trademark screwball that was nearly unhittable during the peak of his career.
“The first thing that comes to mind, is Fernandomania,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who considers Valenzuela a close friend. “Tonight is a great night to celebrate him.”
Valenzuela, who is in his 16th season as a Dodgers Spanish language broadcaster, did not have his number officially retired Saturday, an honor the Dodgers traditionally reserve for Hall of Famers. But he was serenaded for a lengthy, impactful MLB career all the same.
“He created more baseball fans, and Dodger fans, than any other player,” said Jarrin, who has been calling Dodgers games since 1959. “Thanks to this kid, people fell in love with baseball. Especially within the Mexican community.”
Alexander facing nerve problem
Injured left-handed pitcher Scott Alexander is dealing with a nerve issue in his thumb, Roberts said Saturday. Alexander, who went on the injured list June 11 with left forearm inflammation, wore a brace on his throwing arm Saturday.
“He hasn’t had the feel for the baseball in quite some time,” Roberts said. “We were trying to figure out why. It was diagnosed as something in his thumb.”
Roberts said the nerve issue won’t require a medical fix. Instead, he said the reliever just needs “more time” to heal.