August 2010

Back to School Shopping Spree

Not only did 20 disadvantaged youth receive $100 apiece courtesy of the Dodgers Dream Foundation and Staples for a back-to-school shopping spree, they were able to spend it while being guided by a couple of Dodgers.


Dodger outfielder Jay Gibbons and former Dodger outfielder Rudy Law led the kids through an El Monte Staples while they picked out school supplies.


“You guys ready to do some shopping?” asked Gibbons as he met his group of kids. “I am. If you don’t want to, I will.”


Gibbons has three children, the oldest being 18-month-old twins, so they’re not ready yet for school shopping. But he remembers leading his parents around a store when he was a kid.


“I liked spending my parents’ money for sure — on clothes, on pencils and binders,” said Gibbons. “It’s always an exciting time going back to school.”


Law’s group led him to the computer section where he was bewildered by the changing times.


“Lord help me. We didn’t have a computer when I was a kid,” said Law, who made his Major League debut with the Dodgers in 1978.


The 20 children from the El Monte City School District left with backpacks, highlighters and other supplies. But the highlight of the event was being able to share it with some Dodgers. Gibbons even handed them tickets to a future Dodger game.

Passing the Torch

In 1990, Fernandomania came to a close with the Dodgers. Yet it didn’t come without a passing of the torch to another Latino pitching star — Ramon Martinez.


Both players had defining moments that year. Fernando Valenzuela, clearly not the same pitcher he was during the height of Fernandomania, still showed he had something left in the tank. On June 29, 1990, Valenzuela tossed the only no-hitter of his career in a 6-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.


Years later Valenzuela would reflect on the effort for Baseball Digest saying, “Many people were thinking my career was over when I hurt my arm (in 1988). But this game makes all that hard work to get back worthwhile.”


The Mexican-born pitcher finished the season at 13-13. It was the final season of a career that began in 1980 when he made his debut out of the bullpen on Sept. 15. The next year, Fernandomania was born and he won the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award.


Though he never reached the same heights as Valenzuela, Martinez nonetheless made an impact for the Dodgers, particularly in the 1990s.


He made his debut in 1988 and made 24 appearances in his first two seasons, but he was unleashed in 1990. The highlight of his one and only All-Star season came less than four weeks before Valenzuela’s no-hitter.


On June 4, 1990, the right-hander from the Dominican Republic struck out 18 Atlanta Braves, tying Sandy Koufax’s club record. Martinez went 20-6 in 1990 with a 2.92 ERA and 223 strikeouts.


His final season in a Dodger uniform was 1998. During the decade, he won 116 games, the most by a Dodger pitcher in the ’90s. On July 14, 1995, he pitched his own no-hitter in a 7-0 win over the Florida Marlins.

Viva Fernandomania!

There was nothing in the ’80s like Fernandomania. With that unique windup and nasty screwball, Mexican left-hander Fernando Valenzuela burst onto the scene in 1981 like few pitchers in baseball history. Sure, he pitched a little out of the bullpen late in 1980, but he was still a relative unknown when he made an emergency Opening Day start in 1981.


In his first eight games that season, the 20-year-old threw seven complete-game victories with five shutouts. Today we hear of Stephen Strasburg and his unbelievable start. Valenzuela was on a different level.


In 1981, Valenzuela was the National League Cy Young Award winner and the Rookie of the Year. He also finished fifth in the NL MVP vote.


In the 1980s, few pitchers had a better stretch than Valenzuela’s run from 1981 to 1986. In those six seasons, “El Toro” was 97-68 with 84 complete games, 26 shutouts, a 2.97 ERA and 1,637 strikeouts. In 1986, Valenzuela pitched 20 complete games. That was the last time a Major League pitcher threw that many complete games. He was an All-Star every year during that stretch. He made a commercial for Corn Flakes. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice. What else didn’t he do?


You want clutch, Valenzuela went 5-1 in eight postseason games during the 1980s, with a 2.00 ERA.


Come celebrate the 1980s and the achievements of ’80s stars like Fernando Valenzuela at ’80s Night at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 6 when the Dodgers host the Washington Nationals at 7:10 p.m.