Valenzuela in 1981 was named the opening day starter as a rookie after Jerry Reuss was injured 24 hours before his scheduled start and Burt Hooton was not ready to fill in. Valenzuela shut out the Houston Astros 2–0. He started the season 8–0 with five shutouts and an ERA of 0.50. Punctuating this dominance on the mound, Valenzuela had an unusual, flamboyant wind-up (looking skyward just at the apex of every pitch), which drew attention of its own. It was a habit which he claims to have developed spontaneously, although not until joining the Dodgers.
An instant media icon, Valenzuela drew large crowds from the Los Angeles Latino community every time he pitched and triggering high demand across the country for his rookie baseball cards. The craze surrounding Valenzuela came to be known as “Fernandomania.” During his warm-up routine at Dodger Stadium, the PA system would play ABBA‘s 1976 hit song Fernando. He became the first player to win the Rookie of the Year Award and the Cy Young Award in the same season. He was also the first rookie to lead the National League in strikeouts. The Dodgers won the World Series that season.
Valenzuela was less dominant after the 1981 player strike wiped out the middle third of the season, but the left-hander still finished with a 13–7 record and a 2.48 ERA. He led all pitchers in complete games (11), shutouts (8), innings pitched (192.1) and strikeouts (180). In the post-season, Valenzuela became the youngest pitcher to start the first game of a series and pitched a complete Game 3 of the 1981 World Series against the New York Yankees. In total, he went 3–1 in the post-season as he helped the Dodgers to their first World Championship since 1965.
In addition to his skills on the mound, Valenzuela also displayed much better offensive skills than most pitchers. During his rookie season, Valenzuela batted .250 and struck out just nine times in 64 at bats, and was the recipient of the National League’s Silver Slugger Award for pitchers.
Following the outstanding debut, Valenzuela, nicknamed “El Toro” (the Bull) by fans, settled down into a number of years as a workhorse starter and one of the league’s best pitchers. He had one of his best seasons in 1986, when he finished 21–11 with a 3.14 ERA and led the league in wins, complete games and innings pitched. He lost a narrow vote for the Cy Young Award to the Astros’ Mike Scott.
on June 29, 1990, Valenzuela threw a 6–0 no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals just hours after the Oakland Athletics‘ Dave Stewart had thrown one against the Toronto Blue Jays. According to teammate Mike Scioscia, Fernando and many Dodger players watched Stewart, who was a former Dodger, throw the no-hitter on TV. Afterward, before his game, Fernando said to his teammates, “You just saw a no-hitter on TV, now you will see one in person.”
Fernando ended his major baseball career with a 173 wins and over 2000 strike outs. He was named NL Rookie of the year 1981 and NL CY Young Award 1981. He was a 2-time World Series Champion and pitched no-hitter in 1990.
In 2003 Valenzuela returned to Dodger’s organization as a member of a Dodger Spanish language broadcast team. Fernando and his wife Linda have been married since 1981 and have four children. Fernando remains active in the Latino community as well as his native Mexico, supporting philanthropic causes close to him and his family.