Fernando Valenzuela, former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, received the ‘Spirit of California’ medal award as one of the eight Californians inducted into the 12th class of the California Hall of Fame on Tuesday, Dec. 4 at the California Museum in Sacramento.
“We are honoring people who did their utmost and exceeded the ordinary,” said Gov. Jerry Brown Jr. at the California Museum on Tuesday.
Besides Valenzuela, the inductees of the California Hall of Fame included 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.
The California Hall of Fame was established in 2006 by the Museum and former First Lady Maria Shriver to honor legendary people who embody California’s innovative spirit and have made their mark on history.
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.
“Whatever you folks have done, don’t stop now, keep going – and I say the same thing about California,” Brown said.
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 been inducted to the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame as well as the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame.