Bruton: How Fernando Valenzuela helped Angelenos and the Dodgers bridge their divide

From Michelle Bruton at Ozy on April 8, 2019, with mention of SABR members John Thorn and Lincoln Mitchell:

On the opening day of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 1981 season, a baby-faced rookie — just 20 years old — took the mound for his first major league start. The Dodgers never intended to start Fernando Valenzuela to open the season. He was, after all, third in the pitching rotation behind Jerry Reuss and Burt Hooton. But both were sidelined with injuries, so Valenzuela got the call — and proceeded to throw a complete-game, five-hit shutout for a Dodgers win over the Houston Astros.

It would end up being one of the most pivotal games in the Dodgers’ tenure in Los Angeles. When Valenzuela, a native of Etchohuaquila, Mexico, earned his first start, Latino players made up just 11.1 percent of MLB teams, according to data from SABR (which did not distinguish between Latino and Hispanic players). For comparison, in 2016, Latino players made up 27.4 percent of the league.

Players of Mexican birth appeared in MLB as early as 1933, and Mexican-born Bobby Avila was the batting champion of the American League in 1954,” says MLB official historian John Thorn. “Yet Mexico’s first national star was Valenzuela, in part because Los Angeles could command more media attention … and because his debut string of shutouts was so sensational.”

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Originally published: April 8, 2019. Last Updated: April 8, 2019.