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Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela to be inducted into the California Hall of Fame

Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela will be inducted into the California Hall of Fame on Dec. 4 in Sacramento.
Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela will be inducted into the California Hall of Fame on Dec. 4 in Sacramento. California Museum, The California Hall of Fame

Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela will be inducted into the California Hall of Fame this week at the California Museum in Sacramento.

Besides Valenzuela, the inductees of the California Hall of Fame 12th class includes musician Joan Baez; mountaineer and scientist Arlene Blum; journalist Belva Davis; chef Thomas Keller; former San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee; public servant Nancy McFadden; and Hollywood icon and environmentalist Robert Redford.

The new inductees will join 113 inspirational Californians previously inducted for embodying the state’s spirit of innovation.

Valenzuela was one of MLB’s most beloved players over his 17-season career. Opening day of 1981 launched “Fernandomania,” a phenomenon in Los Angeles and then the nation named after the Mexican-born pitcher. He won his first eight starts with seven complete games and five shutouts, on his way to Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards — he remains the only player to win both in the same year. He finished his rookie season with a league-leading eight shutouts and 180 strikeouts.

“Anne and I are pleased to welcome another class of extraordinary Californians to the Hall of Fame,” said Gov. Jerry Brown Jr. “These individuals have helped push our state forward, inspiring Californians with their creativity and courage,”

California Hall of Fame inductees are selected by the Governor and First Lady for achievements and contributions in areas including science, philanthropy, sports, business, entertainment, the arts, literature, technology, activism and politics.

Nicknamed “El Toro,” Valenzuela was known for his skyward glance at the peak of his windup and for throwing a rarely-used pitch called a screwball. In 11 seasons with the Dodgers, he was an All-Star selection six times. At the 1986 All-Star Game, he made history by striking out five consecutive American League batters, tying a record set in 1934. On June 29, 1990, he threw a 6–0 no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals.

But his greatest legacy was igniting Latino interest in MLB, spiking attendance to his games, and sparking TV and radio broadcasts throughout Mexico. Eleven of his 12 starts at Dodger Stadium in 1981 were sellouts. As Dodgers announcer Vin Scully put it, “Fernandomania bordered on a religious experience.”

Since retiring as an MLB player in 1997, Valenzuela has served as a Spanish-language color commentator for the Dodgers and for SportsNet LA. In 2015 he accepted an appointment from President Barack Obama as a Presidential Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization, helping break down barriers for eligible immigrants and refugees to become U.S. citizens.

Valenzuela has also inducted to the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame as well as the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame

Valenzuela as well as the other inductees and family members of posthumous inductees will be presented with “Spirit of California” medals by the Governor and First Lady in an official state ceremony held at the California Museum on Tues., Dec. 4 at 7 p.m.

In addition, their lives and legacies will be featured in an all-new artifact exhibit opening at the California Museum on Wed., Dec. 5 at 10 a.m.

“We’re thrilled to celebrate this new class with the Governor and First Lady,” said California Museum Board of Trustees Chair Richard Costigan III. “We’re also grateful to lead sponsor Visit California. Thanks to their support, the Museum will continue inspiring more than 120,000 visitors to make a mark on history in the year ahead.”

“California’s ‘Dream Big’ spirit shines brightly in this year’s class of inductees,” said Caroline Beteta, President and CEO of Visit California. “Their innovations have changed the world and inspired millions to look to California to lead the way forward for generations to come.”

Members of the public are invited to watch the 12th Annual California Hall of Fame induction ceremony live webcast on Tues., Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. at http://www.californiamuseum.org/webcast/12-hof.

María G. Ortiz-Briones: 559-441-6782, @TuValleTuSalud

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