In May, 1981, Fernando Valenzuela, No. 34, is with Peter O’Malley, President, Los Angeles Dodgers in O'Malley’s Dodger Stadium office. Fernando’s rookie season had just taken off and was the start of exciting “Fernandomania” in the U.S. and his native Mexico. Fernando would win an important Game 3 of the 1981 World Series at Dodger Stadium when the Dodgers had a 2-0 deficit. The Dodgers would win the next three games to clinch the World Championship against the New York Yankees.

Mexico: Friendships and Fernandomania

By Brent Shyer

The O’Malley family established longtime friendships in Mexico, dating back to 1955 when the Dodgers entered into a working agreement with the Monterrey Sultanes of the Mexican League. Dodger President Walter O’Malley announced at a January 28, 1955 press conference with Anuar Canavati, President of the Sultanes, a plan to provide talent to the Monterrey team. 

Two years later, the Little League Baseball World Series championship team was from Monterrey, becoming the first-ever international team to win the title in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. O’Malley invited Monterrey players, coaches and traveling party as guests of the Dodgers on August 25, 1957 to spend the day watching a game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. The players, including Angel Macias who pitched a perfect game in the championship contest, were introduced to the enthusiastic crowd.

In 1962, when Peter O’Malley was named Director of Dodgertown, he and his Dad welcomed Carlos Rubio Alvarez, Vice President and General Manager of the Club Aguila De Veracruz, Mexico to the Spring Training site in Vero Beach, Florida. Alvarez wrote in a letter to Walter O’Malley, “My sincere thanks to you for the fine welcome I received from you and your employees during my recent visit to the significant Training Camp of the clubs that you are the President. I hope this to be the beginning of our relations which will be increasing in the future for the benefit of both parties.” 

On March 13, 1964, the Dodgers opened a three-game series of exhibition games in Mexico City. Walter O’Malley donned a sombrero and serape, as the World Champion Dodgers defeated the Mexico City Tigres 8-3. Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty threw the ceremonial first pitch. All three games were televised back to Los Angeles on Spanish-language KMEX-TV Channel 34.

On March 13, 1964, Dodger President Walter O’Malley of the Dodgers gets into the spirit of the festivities at the Mexico City ballpark – all decked out – in a sombrero and a serape. The hat and cape were gifts to O’Malley from the Mexican Tourist Department, presented by Rodolfo Martinez Sierra, right. O’Malley and the Dodgers opened a three-game exhibition series in Mexico City against the Mexico City Tigres with an 8-3 victory. The Dodgers won two of the three games in the series.

AP Photo

The next day on March 14, Mexico’s President Adolfo Lopez Mateos attended the game and threw the ceremonial first pitch. The Dodgers beat the Mexico City Rojos Diablos, 10-3. In the finale, the Mexico City All-Stars (combined Tigres and Rojos Diablos) beat the Dodgers, 8-5.

O’Malley commented to The Sporting News on March 28, “We have played in Japan, Venezuela, Panama and the Dominican Republic. But the enthusiasm of the President of Mexico, and that of the fans, was unprecedented in our travels. We hope to return soon and we also hope to sign a Mexican player.” The Sporting News, March 28, 1964

In a Dodger press release, O’Malley stated, “I believe we have created goodwill in most places. I’m convinced that our trip to Mexico over the weekend did a great deal for Latin-American relations. We were never so well received everywhere, both formally and informally. President (Adolfo) Lopez Mateos honored us by his surprise attendance Saturday night, during which he pitched the first ball. We now are looking forward to more international competition, maybe Japan again and particularly Australia where baseball is catching on so fast.”

In the Spring of 1965, the Mexico City Tigres sent Ricardo Garza to Dodgertown to prepare the player for a future as a manager by observing the Dodger methods of training and instruction.

Hall of Fame Dodger Spanish-language broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, circa the 1970s. Jarrin started his baseball broadcasting career with the Dodgers in 1959, the Dodgers’ second year in L.A. Jarrin announced his retirement from the Dodgers following the 2022 season. Jarrin, a native of Ecuador, was instrumental in the “Fernandomania” excitement in 1981, as he served as the interpreter for all press conferences for Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela.

According to Hall of Fame Dodger broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, Walter O’Malley would tell him that the Dodgers wanted to find a “Mexican” Sandy Koufax. Vic Wilson, SABR “The National Pastime, Endless Seasons, Baseball in Southern California” (2011), “Fernandomania” With the ever-growing Latino market in the Los Angeles area, it only made sense to search for talent. O’Malley, well-aware of the tremendous heritage and influence of the Latino market, inaugurated Spanish-language radio broadcasts in Los Angeles beginning with the Dodgers’ first season in 1958. It was not new, as the Dodgers had Spanish-language radio broadcasts for years in Brooklyn since 1954.  

Ironically, on July 6, 1979, the Dodgers announced the purchase of the contract of Fernando Valenzuela. Just 34 days later, Walter O’Malley passed away. But O’Malley’s dream would be fulfilled and it was his son Peter that carried it forward.

Dodger scout Corito Varona recommended Valenzuela and then scout Mike Brito observed the young left-hander, as well. Brito also strongly recommended him to Dodger Vice President, Player Personnel Al Campanis. But, since Valenzuela was under the control of the Puebla team and was not a free agent, his contract had to be negotiated directly with the club. Based on the recommendations, Peter O’Malley agreed to pay $120,000 to purchase Fernando, a sum equivalent at the time to a high first-round draft pick.

Valenzuela was initially assigned to Single-A Lodi in 1979. In the fall of 1979, he was taught his most important pitch – the screwball – by fellow Dodger Bobby Castillo. In 1980, he was sent for more seasoning to Double-A San Antonio. But, at the tail end of the Dodger season, Fernando made his Dodger debut and immediately started to impress. The Dodgers and Houston tied after 162 games and played one extra regular season game to determine the National League West Champion. The Dodgers lost but Fernando had made his name known. In 1981, his rise to stardom would be meteoric.

Due to an injury to teammate Jerry Reuss, Fernando was asked by Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda to make the Dodgers’ Opening Day start against Houston in 1981. He astounded with his calm and cool demeanor, throwing a five-hit, 2-0 shutout. He was the first Dodger rookie to start on Opening Day. Historically, he won his first eight games with five shutouts to create the phenomenon known as “Fernandomania” as he captivated baseball fans everywhere. He was the cover story for Sports Illustrated on May 18. When the Dodgers were on the road, a start by Fernando filled ballparks to capacity. And, at Dodger Stadium, watching him pitch that season was akin to an international goodwill celebration. Mexican flags were being waved at all levels of Dodger Stadium, as fans unified in their admiration of the 20-year-old phenom. He led the Dodgers to a strike-shortened World Series Championship and then capped that off by winning the National League Cy Young Award and N.L. Rookie of the Year, a first in the same season. Out of the 10 Dodgers’ postseason victories in 1981, Fernando won 3 games.

United States Ambassador to Mexico Jack Gavin stands as Dodger pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela sits in the Ambassador’s chair at the U.S. Embassy. Gavin was an actor and served as Ambassador from 1981-1986. Fernando had completed his remarkable 1981 season as the National League Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award winner leading the Dodgers to a 1981 World Championship. “Fernandomania” became an international baseball phenomenon and Fernando’s popularity was off the charts. Gavin, circa Fall 1981 adds his own humorous caption at the bottom of the photo to Dodger President Peter O’Malley: “Peter, who is the guy sitting in my chair?”

(L-R): Rudolfo “Rudy” Hoyos and Jaime Jarrin, the Dodger Spanish-language broadcasters from 1973-1981. Hoyos was a well-known character actor in addition to being a baseball broadcaster. Jarrin began broadcasting for the Dodgers in 1959 and did not miss a game until 1984 when an assignment for the Olympic Games stopped his streak. In 1998, Jarrin was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting.

The Dodgers established a large network of radio stations throughout Mexico so fans could follow Fernando’s every game as he instantly became a national hero. Popular Dodger Spanish-language broadcasters were Jarrin (who also interpreted regularly at Fernando’s press conferences) and Mexico-born Rodolfo “Rudy” Hoyos, also a well-known actor. 

Industrialist Alejo Peralta was owner of the Mexico City Tigres and he founded the Alejo Peralta Baseball Academy in Pasteje, north of Mexico City, on land which he owned in 1983. The Academy was designed to develop young players in Mexico to play in the Mexican Baseball League. On May 6, 1987, O’Malley attended a Mexican League game between the Campeche Pirates and Mexico City Tigres as guest of Peralta and received a standing ovation from the crowd when introduced. Tomas Morales F., La Aficion, May 7, 1987 The next night, O’Malley threw the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Cuba-Mexico game of the Olympic Baseball Festival Mexicano at Social Security Park. Former Dodger Coach Preston Gomez was the catcher. Peralta and O’Malley developed a friendship, as O’Malley visited Peralta’s Academy as his guest, as they arrived via helicopter from Peralta’s residence. Peralta, in turn, made trips to Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Florida, spring training site of the Dodgers hosted by O’Malley. 

In January 1988, O’Malley brought Fernando and team executives with him to Mexico City for a press conference where the Dodgers announced a long-term agreement with the Mexico City Tigres and the San Luis Potosi Tuneros, both of the Mexican League. The Dodgers provided three players to the two teams and also sent instructors.  

On June 29, 1990, Fernando brought joy to Mexico and Dodger fans everywhere when he pitched a 6-0 no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium, the first Dodger no-hitter in 10 years. 

In 1991, O’Malley arranged for the Dodgers to play two exhibition games against the Milwaukee Brewers in Monterrey. With Fernando and Dodger broadcaster Jarrin with him for a February 1 press conference, O’Malley said, “The Dodgers are fortunate to have many fans in Mexico and we are looking forward to bringing the Dodgers to Monterrey. We are very happy to have the opportunity to play these two exhibition games before our friends in Mexico at Cuauhtemoc Y Famosa Stadium.” Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1991

The program cover for the baseball games played in Monterrey, Mexico between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Milwaukee Brewers on March 16-17, 1991. Fernando Valenzuela, the 1981 National League Rookie of the Year and the 1981 Cy Young Award winner for the National League was featured along with pitcher Teddy Higuera of the Milwaukee Brewers.

It was the first appearance of a major league team in Mexico in more than 25 years. The games were a big hit, as the March 17, 1991 game was billed as “Duelo de Titanes” featuring two Mexican-born pitchers – Fernando for the Dodgers and Teddy Higuera for Milwaukee. The Dodgers beat the Brewers, 3-1 on Saturday, March 16 and Fernando won 6-1 on Sunday, March 17, pitching five innings and allowing the lone run. The game was televised nationally throughout Mexico and to Los Angeles. 

“We knew Fernando’s importance to his country before we came down here, but to see it, to feel, to hear it…it was an extraordinary moment. This is one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had since I’ve been with the ball club,” Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times, March 18, 1991 said O’Malley. 

A painting of Fernando Valenzuela by colorful pop artist Red Grooms. Charles Bronfman, owner of the Montreal Expos, commissioned Grooms for artwork for the Expos’ during Spring Training. Valenzuela was pitching for the Dodgers at Municipal Stadium and Grooms thought he was a great subject. In 1985, Bronfman then made a gift of the painting to Dodger President Peter O’Malley and his wife Annette.

“I have often said that Fernandomania was the most exciting time for me,” said O’Malley.

Ismael Valdez of Mexico was part of the Dodgers’ 1995-1996 starting rotation named the “International House of Pitchers,” as the group included players speaking four languages: Korean (Chan Ho Park); Japanese (Hideo Nomo), Spanish (Valdez, Ramon Martinez) and English (Tom Candiotti). In 2020, Valdez was inducted into the Latino Baseball Hall of Fame in La Romana, Dominican Republic. 

(L-R): Dodger President Peter O’Malley; Toru Shoriki, Chairman, Yomiuri Shimbun, and owner of the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants and his wife; friend of Alejo Peralta and Alejo Peralta, founder of Mexico City Tigres; Mrs. P.P. Tang and Mr. P.P. Tang, Commissioner, Chinese Professional Baseball League, Taiwan (Republic of China). On March 17, 1990, celebration for Opening of the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taipei attended by O’Malley and many international baseball friends.

On March 25, 1996, O’Malley attended dedication ceremonies for the Alejo Peralta Mexican Baseball Academy in El Carmen, 20 minutes from Monterrey. He said, “I’m very impressed with the facility (the brainchild of Peralta, Mexico City Diablos Rojos President Roberto Mansur and Mexican League President Petro Treto Cisneros). I am happy the academy bears the name of my good friend Alejo Peralta (the former Mexican League Commissioner and owner of the Mexico City Tigres).” Baseball America, April 29, 1996

(L-R): Former Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn; Carlos Garcia, Minister of Sports, Nicaragua; Aldo Notari, President, Italian Baseball Softball Federation and President, European Amateur Baseball Confederation; Dr. Bob Smith, President, International Baseball Association; Alonso Perez, President of Mexican Baseball Federation; and Dodger President Peter O’Malley. On March 15, 1993 at O’Malley’s office in Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Florida, Notari, Garcia and Perez were all vying for the IBA presidency to succeed Dr. Bob Smith. Notari was eventually elected that year.

In 1997 and 1998, the Mexico City Reds visited Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Florida during Spring Training and played Dodger “B” squad exhibition games.

(L-R): Peter O’Malley; Forrest “Spook” Jacobs; Alejandra Mara, Museo de Filatelia de Oaxaca, Mexico, June 16-17, 1999. The famous stamp museum started by Diablos Rojos del Mexico owner Alfredo Harp Helú who donated his stamp collection. O’Malley traveled to Oaxaca to view the baseball stamp exhibit. Jacobs, a former Dodger minor leaguer from 1946-1953, had also sent his large stamp collection to the museum called “MUFI”.

On March 23, 2019, O’Malley was invited by another friend Alfredo Harp Helú for the Grand Opening of Alfredo Harp Helú Stadium in Mexico City, the new home of the Diablos Rojos. The President of Mexico Manuel Lopez Obrador threw the ceremonial first pitch and O’Malley visited with him during the game. Harp founded the Museo de Filatelia de Oaxaca with his personal collection of stamps and international baseball stamps donated by former major leaguer Forrest “Spook” Jacobs and O’Malley.

After Fernando’s 1980 major league debut until 2024, 110 players born in Mexico have debuted as more clubs invested in scouting and development. There were just 37 players born in Mexico who played in MLB from 1933-1979. In 1995, nine players born in Mexico made their major league debuts (the largest number since totals began in 1933), including four Dodgers: Juan Castro, Karim Garcia, Noe Muñoz, and Antonio Osuna. Fernando is the all-time leader of pitchers born in Mexico and its only Cy Young Award winner. He is first in wins (173), games started (424), innings pitched (2,930), complete games (113), shutouts (31) and strikeouts (2,074).

Hall of Fame Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully eloquently capped Fernando Valenzuela’s 1990 no-hitter at Dodger Stadium with the unforgettable line, “If you have a sombrero, throw it to the sky!”