Iconic Hispanic Angelenos in History: Fernando Valenzuela

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 through October 15, join us as we celebrate the Hispanic individuals that have influenced culture, social justice, and progress in Los Angeles and, in some instances, the nation. Check back often as we highlight a new iconic Hispanic Angeleno throughout the month.

Today we celebrate Fernando Valenzuela:

To L.A. sports fans Fernando Valenzuela is more than just a former pitcher for the boys in blue.

Picture this: It's a bright Thursday afternoon on April 9, 1981 on opening day at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers are playing against the Houston Astros, but starting pitcher Jerry Reuss is unable to play due to an injury. Then, out comes rookie Fernando Valenzuela, a 20 year-old from Sonora, Mexico. This new #34 Dodger does not look like a traditional pitcher: he is not lean and has long brown hair under his baseball cap. Once he takes the mound Valenzuela confuses the Astros' batters. He moves a lot, making it hard for batters to keep track of his signature screwballs. Valenzuela, on his first day playing for the Dodgers, plays a shoutout game, leading to a 2-0 win.


Fernandomania immediately took over the city. The Latino community finally had a reason to return to Chavez Ravine as Valenzuela continued to wow crowds, setting records and pitching more shoutout games. Demand for stadium tickets led to sold out games and higher attendance in away games, as fans from other cities wanted to get a look at the Dodger's new star pitcher. In his rookie season Valenzuela helped lead the Dodgers to the World Series, defeating the New York Yankees for their first championship since 1965. He ended up winning Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young Awards, becoming the first player to win both awards in the same season.

Valenzuela played for the Dodgers until 1991, earning the nickname "El Toro" (the bull) from loving fans. Now, Valenzuela is a an announcer for the Dodger's Spanish broadcast, alongside Jaime Jarrín and Pepe Yñiguez. He also runs the "Amigos of Fernando" program, which brings kids to Dodger Stadium. Valenzuela is also involved with "Reviving Baseball in Innercities," a MLB youth outreach program.

  • Led the Dodgers to win the World Series in his first full season in the Major Leagues
  • Only player in Major League history to win the Rookie of the Year award and the Cy Young Award in the same season
  • His signature move -- looking up at the sky before throwing the ball -- started when he began playing for the Dodgers
  • The Dodgers have not issued No.34 since Valenzuela's departure in 1991, although it has not been officially retired
  • An unusually effective hitter for a pitcher, he was even used as a pinch hitter on occasion
  • Univision awarded him with a lifetime achievement award in 2008 as one of the most prominent Hispanic athletes in history

Story continues below

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading