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Daybreak at Chavez Ravine: Fernandomania and the Remaking of the Los Angeles Dodgers

Fernando Valenzuela was only twenty years old when Tom Lasorda chose him as the Dodgers’ opening-day starting pitcher in 1981. Born in the remote Mexican town of Etchohuaquila, the left-hander had moved to the United States less than two years before. He became an instant icon, and his superlative rookie season produced Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards—and a World Series victory over the Yankees.

Forty years later, there hasn’t been a player since who created as many Dodgers fans. After the Dodgers’ move to Los Angeles from Brooklyn in the late 1950s, relations were badly strained between the organization and the Latin world. Mexican Americans had been evicted from their homes in Chavez Ravine, Los Angeles—some forcibly—for well below market value so the city could sell the land to team owner Walter O’Malley for a new stadium. For a generation of working-class Mexican Americans, the Dodgers became a source of great anguish over the next two decades.

However, that bitterness toward the Dodgers vanished during the 1981 season when Valenzuela attracted the fan base the Dodgers had tried in vain to reach for years. El Toro, as he was called, captured the imagination of the baseball world. A hero in Mexico, a legend in Los Angeles, and a phenomenon throughout the United States, Valenzuela did more to change that tense political environment than anyone in the history of baseball. A new fan base flooded Dodger Stadium and ballparks around the United States whenever Valenzuela pitched in a phenomenon that quickly became known as Fernandomania, which continued throughout a Dodger career that included six straight All-Star game appearances.

Daybreak at Chavez Ravine retells Valenzuela’s arrival and permanent influence on Dodgers history while bringing redemption to the organization’s controversial beginnings in LA. Through new interviews with players, coaches, broadcasters, and media, Erik Sherman reveals a new side of this intensely private man and brings fresh insight to the ways he transformed the Dodgers and started a phenomenon that radically altered the country’s cultural and sporting landscape.

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