Erik Sherman's Daybreak At Chavez Ravine - Fernandomania and the Remaking of the Los Angeles Dodgers is a read that reminds fans that Major League Baseball can be fun.

Damn, analytics.

The story of Mexican-born pitching phenom of the 1980's Fernando Valenzuela is one that has staying power. The excitement the 19-year-old hurler brought to the game in 1980 was a prelude to his being the game's top draw the following season. During MLB's split-season of 1981, when a labor dispute forced the cancellation of 713 games, Valenzuela's trips to the mound meant an average of an extra 5,800 fans came to see him work.

Sherman brilliantly takes readers from Valenzuela's humble beginnings in Etchohuaquila, Mexico (population 857 in 2020) to owning the 1981 season, and beyond.  This was a rookie season not to be forgotten.  Awards were plentiful.  Along with the winning a World Series championship with Los Angeles in 1981, Valenzuela was selected the National League Rookie of the Year, Cy Yound Award winner, and was the starting pitcher for the National League at the All-Star Game in Cleveland.

Baseball fans of a certain age will have memories of Fernandomania coming gushing back to them, with each page turned in Daybreak At Chavez Ravine.

How could a kid living 1,000 miles northwest of Mexico City be discovered by Dodgers'  scout Mike Brito, and turn out to be as dominant as he did? The screwball Valenzuela tossed was near unhittable in 1981.  The rookie's 13-7 win-loss record doesn't tell the full and exciting story that Fernandomania is. Sherman fills in the details, many not known until his discoveries.

Leading up to the 1981 season, the interesting fact surrounding Valenzuela's introduction to baseball starts the previous season. As Sherman reminds, the 10 games that Valenzuela appears for the Dodgers (all in relief), his efforts yielded zero earned runs.

Oh, yeah. This was an era when pitchers actually batted.  Valenzuela smacked 10 home runs during his 17 MLB seasons, and collected 187 hits in total.

Those 11 seasons wearing Dodger blue, playing home games with the San Gabriel Mountains peaking out behind the bleachers at Dodger Stadium, this is when the legend of Valenzula grew by leaps and bounds.

Until Valenzuela's arrival, the Dodgers didn't have a Mexican superstar to wrap their team around, for the 4.5 million Hispanics living in California in 1981.

When Dodgers' owner Walter O'Malley moved his club from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and purchased land in Los Angeles' Chavez Ravine area to build his stadium, politics and sport clashed.  Building Dodger Stadium meant evicting Mexican-Americans (some forceably) from their homes.  The Dodgers were seen by some as true villains in their home city.

Then came El Toro, Valenzuela's nickname.


The thawing of feelings between the Mexican community and the Dodgers was noticeable in 1981, thanks to the rise of Valenzuela's standing in baseball.  He became a phenomenon throughout America.  A legend was born

Sherman delivers as much or more of a detailed account on the life of Valenzuela in Daybreak At Chavez Ravine as any who have previously attempted.  Highly private, Valenzuela has been said to have turned down movie scripts concerning his life story, as well as autobiography offers.  Sherman has captured the life of Valenzuela with few rocks unturned.

Valenzuela was to Latinos to what Jackie Robinson was to Black Americans. The pitcher with an eighth-grade education befriended Jaime Jarrin, the Spanish-language voice of the Dodgers.  Details on how Jarrin became a father-figure to Valenzuela, and the importance of Brito, well past signing the teenager, are amazing stories within the whole Fernandomania experience.

Daybreak At Chavez Ravine is a baseball education well worth signing up for.

Kristine Bellino, WIBX

Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at Don can be contacted via email at 

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