On April 9, 1981, the Los Angeles Dodgers, led by manager Tommy Lasorda, began their season with high expectations. The Dodgers wound up meeting those, going on to defeat the New York Yankees in six games to win the 1981 World Series.
Several months prior to that, a 20-year-old Mexican native took the mound on Opening Day for his first career Major League start. Fernando Valenzuela had thrown 17.2 scoreless innings over 10 relief appearances with the Dodgers in 1980, but he remained relatively unknown going into the 1981 season.
That did not last long though, as Valenzuela spawned the ‘Fernandomania’ phenomenon, beginning with an Opening Day start in which he threw a complete-game shutout against the Houston Astros. L.A. didn’t exactly break out their bats, but came away with a 2-0 victory.
Valenzuela went 8-0 with a 0.50 ERA, 68 strikeouts and eight complete games through his first eight starts. He went finished the season 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA, 11 complete games and eight shoutouts. He led all pitchers with 180 strikeouts that season.
Valenzuela was named the 1981 National League Rookie of the Year and NL Cy Young Award winner, and he also won a Silver Slugger Award. Mike Piazza, Corey Seager and Valenzuela are the only Dodgers to win Rookie of the Year and a Silver Slugger Award in the same season.
Valenzuela was a six-time All-Star during his tenure with the Dodgers, and was part of a second World Series championship team in 1988. Though, he was unable to pitch that postseason due to injury.
In his 17-year Major League career Valenzuela won 173 games and yielded a 3.54 ERA. He was inducted into the Mexican baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.
Valenzuela is still involved with the Dodgers organization as a Spanish-language commentator. He was honored during the first homestand during the 2019 season as the first giveaway was a Fernando Valenzuela replica jersey.
Dodgers manager suspended
Also on this day in Dodgers history, Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher was suspended for one year by MLB commissioner Happy Chandler for a wide range of actions deemed detrimental to baseball, including association with known gamblers.
Durocher returned to manage the Dodgers in 1948, which was his last season before becoming skipper of the New York Giants.
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