Greatest moments in Dodger history No. 8: Fernandomania

Fernando Valenzuela signs autographs at Dodger Stadium.
Fernando Valenzuela signs autographs at Dodger Stadium.
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Los Angeles Times)
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Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and the greatest moment countdown continues

I’m assuming everyone knows how this works by now, so I’m going to drop the explanatory introduction to these. If you need a reminder, click on any of the Nos. 20-25 greatest moments below.

Up next is the greatest sports announcer of all time.

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No. 8: Fernandomania (109 first-place votes, 15,418 points)

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela  in the opening game of the 1985 National League Championship series.
Fernando Valenzuela pitches in the 1985 NLCS.

When injuries sidelined Jerry Reuss and Burt Hooton, preventing them from starting on opening day in 1981, Manager Tommy Lasorda rolled the dice and turned to a young, mostly unknown who was pegged as the No. 5 starter: Fernando Valenzuela.

Fernando (calling him Valenzuela just seems wrong for some reason), was only 20 years old and was thrust onto the mound on opening day to pitch against the defending NL West champion Houston Astros.

All he did was shut them out and take his first step toward immortality, as far as Dodger fans were concerned.


Fans turned out in droves to Dodger games when Fernando pitched. Eleven of his 12 starts at Dodger Stadium in 1981 were sellouts. The team’s attendance went up by an average of 7,519 fans at his home starts and an amazing 14,292 in road starts.

“I truly believe that there is no other player in major league history who created more new fans than Fernando Valenzuela,” longtime Dodgers Spanish broadcaster Jamie Jarrin said in a 2006 Dodger Magazine interview. “Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Joe DiMaggio, even Babe Ruth did not. Fernando turned so many people from Mexico, Central America, South America into fans. He created interest in baseball among people who did not care about baseball.”

Vin Scully was equally impressed: “I truly feel that Fernando was a religious experience for many people. You’d see parents with the little youngsters by the hand, using him as inspiration

But it had to be a fluke, right? There’s no way that he could do that in his next start. Yeah, he could. Fernando went 8-0 in his first eight starts, with seven complete games, five shutouts and an 0.50 ERA. The stuff of legend. And baseball fans everywhere noticed as “Fernandomania” was born.

Some people didn’t believe Fernando was really 20, and he got so many questions about it, Dodgers GM Al Campanis said he kept a copy of Fernando’s birth certificate in his desk.

Fernando finished the season 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA and became the first pitcher to win the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award in the same season. When he accepted the Cy Young Award, he was asked if he knew who Cy Young was.

“I do not know who he was, but a trophy carries his name so he must be someone very special to baseball.”

So were you Fernando, so were you.

Fernando Valenzuela
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Los Angeles Times)

Previous greatest moments

No. 9: Vin Scully’s final game at Dodger Stadium

No. 10: Maury Wills sets the stolen base record

No. 11: Dodgers move to L.A.

No. 12: Don Drysdale’s scoreless innings streak

No. 13: Four straight homers against the Padres


No. 14: Sandy Koufax’s shutout in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series

No. 15: Dodgers win 1981 World Series

No. 16: Roy Campanella Night

No. 17: Rick Monday’s 1981 NLCS home run

No. 18: Rick Monday saves the flag

No. 19: Winning the 1988 World Series


No. 20: Winning the 1959 World Series

No. 21: Sandy Amorós’ catch in 1955 World Series

No. 22: Cody Bellinger’s catch in 2020 NLDS

No. 23: Justin Turner’s walkoff homer in 2017 NLCS

No. 24: Sandy Koufax strikes out 15 in 1963 World Series Game 1

No. 25: Mike Scioscia’s 1988 NLCS homer


About that bizarre Cody Bellinger homer

Several readers emailed me to ask what would have happened on that Cody Bellinger home run if there were two out. On the play, Justin Turner returned to first thinking the ball was caught, passing Bellinger, causing Bellinger to be called out and credited with a single, with Turner then being allowed to score. If there were two out, no run would have scored.

Conclusions from the first series

There are none. It’s four games against a team expected to finish last. The offense looks tremendous. Corey Seager went eight for 12 with two doubles, four walks and three RBIs. Will Smith went four for seven with two doubles and a walk. On the flip side, AJ Pollock went two for 14 with seven strikeouts. That’s a .143 average. But if he goes three for four in his next game, suddenly he is hitting .278. Things fluctuate much too quickly this early to get too excited or too worried. The Dodgers are who we thought they were, a team with tremendous depth who will make opposing pitchers work. Pitching-wise, everyone has been in only one game except for Corey Knebel, Victor Gonzalez and Jimmy Nelson.

I did get two emails from readers after the first game concerned that the Dodgers were not hungry this season after winning the World Series. I re-assured Mr. Kasten and Mr. Friedman that everything would be fine.

Roster move

The Dodgers put Tony Gonsolin on the 10-day IL with shoulder inflammation and recalled Dennis Santana.

Brusdar Graterol on the IL

Brusdar Graterol was put on the injured list over the weekend, but no one is really sure which injured list. It was first announced he was going on the 60-day IL, which would keep him out until June. Later, that was declared a mistake.

Graterol is going on the IL because of issues “related to COVID from the past.” So it sounds like Graterol got the coronavirus, and that set back his throwing program, and they need to build up his arm strength.

Live blog

Have you checked out our Dodgers live blog? If not, you missed out on some cool Vin Scully videos and historical data, as well as updates on the game as each half-inning expired. Also, you got an immediate update on that weird Bellinger homer/single. If you have any comments or suggestions to make the live blog better, please email me at
and let me know your thoughts. In the meantime, you can always find the live blog for every game year at

Fernandomania at 40

We are inviting subscribers to the exclusive premiere of the first installment of “Fernandomania @ 40,” the Times’ multi-episode documentary series that examines star pitcher Fernando Valenzuela’s impact on the Dodgers, Major League Baseball and the Latino community in Los Angeles 40 years ago.


After a screening of the first installment Fernando at 40 at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 8, Times columnist Gustavo Arellano, deputy sports editor Iliana Limón Romero and Mexican-American baseball historian Richard Santillán will discuss the fan frenzy surrounding the humble Mexican pitcher’s record-setting rookie season and answer questions from subscribers.

To register for the event, click on this link and enter the event code fernandoat40.

Up next

Tonight, Dodgers (Dustin May) at Oakland (Frankie Montas), 6:30 p.m. Sportsnet LA
Tuesday, Dodgers (Clayton Kershaw*, 0-1, 7.94 ERA) at Oakland (Chris Bassitt, 0-1, 5.06 ERA), 6:30 p.m., Sportsnet LA
Wednesday, Dodgers (Trevor Bauer, 1-0, 5.68 ERA) at Oakland (Jesus Luzardo*, 0-1, 9.00 ERA), 12:30 p.m., Sportsnet LA


And finally

Fernando gets a no-hitter. Watch it here.

Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.