Just watched a fantastic Fernando Valenzuela documentary on ESPN (available OnDemand for Comcast subscribers). It’s the first of the “30 in 30″ series focusing on baseball that I found compelling. (ANOTHER tribute to the 2004 Red Sox along with some Steinbrenner ass-kissing by overrated documentarian Barbara Kopple!?!)
Director Cruz Angeles tells Valenzuela’s story from the perspective of a Latino kid growing up in L.A. Mexicans mostly resented the Dodgers until Fernando, largely due to the ugly roots of Dodger Stadium. Chavez Ravine was a community founded by Latino immigrants who were forced out by old school eminent domain. That is, the cops showed up with billy clubs then bulldozed their homes.
But Valenzuela changed that perception. Name a famous Mexican before Fernando? I’m talking Brad Pitt-famous, because Fernandomania was not overhyped. His debut in Atlanta, on a Thursday night in May, attracted 26,597 fans, more than the first two games of the Dodgers series combined. That was a huge crowd in those days. (Shockingly, the Braves gave Fernando his first major league ass-kicking, scoring seven runs in 3-2/3 innings. Biff Pocoroba hit second that night and played 3B, BTW.)
It doesn’t get more aberrating than that. El Toro threw 8 shutouts in a 110-game, strike-shortened season. By comparison, Mad Dog never topped five in a season.
Fernando’s greatest legacy? A loyal Latino following for the Dodgers. Visitors to Chavez Ravine can attest: Fernandomania lingers.