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Pitcher Fernando Valenzuela #34 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is interviewed by his manager Tommy Lasorda #2 before the game against the Chicago Cubs on June 7, 1981 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.
With all the turmoil that has surrounded the Dodgers this past year, many fans who bleed blue are looking back to remind themselves of better times for the storied franchise.
Amongst those fans is writer, producer, and lifelong Dodgers fan Paul Haddad. In Haddad’s new book, “High Fives, Pennant Drives, and Fernandomania,” he focuses on the “glory years” of his childhood team, which spans from 1977 to 1981. During this time period, the Boys in Blue made it to the World Series three times, all against the Yankees. The capper was in 1981, when they finally defeated the Yankees after two ugly losses in 1977 and 1978.
Haddad explores this point in sports history of one of America’s most important teams the way only a true fan can. Haddad draws upon radio and TV transcripts of Vin Scully’s live coverage, his own childhood memories, and a trove of lists, trivia and statistics to provide a more than thorough examination of these four years for the Dodgers.
What’s so special about these seasons? What role did ownership play in the team’s success at the time? Who was your favorite player from the period? What moments stand out to you?
Paul Haddad, author of “High Fives, Pennant Drives, and Fernandomania: A Fan’s History of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Glory Years 1977-1981,” television writer and producer
Haddad's personal recordings of notable Dodgers games:
Dodgers vs. Phillies, in Philadelphia at old Veterans Stadium. Ross Porter behind the mic. Top of the 9th inning. The recording starts off with the Dodgers leading, 6-4, with runners on second and third base and one out. The Phillies’ Tug McGraw is ordered to walk batter Joe Ferguson intentionally to load the bases and set up a double-play possibility. But Ferguson does something unexpected – he swings at one of the intentional balls -- it got too close to home plate -- and slaps a single to right field! Two runs score to make it 8-4. I call this “The Kelly Leak Play” in my book, a reference to the Jackie Earle Haley character in “The Bad News Bears,” who does the same thing. But that was a work of fiction! I’ve only seen this type of play one other time in Major League Baseball in the 32 years since Fergie did it.
But it gets better… McGraw, embarrassed at being shown up by Ferguson, plunks the next batter, Bill Russell. Russell was a mild-mannered ballplayer, but he surprises everyone by charging the mound. A crazy melee ensues, and Ross Porter calls the fight like a boxing match, sparing us no details. Poor Ross Porter had to endure 28 years working in Vin Scully’s very long shadow, never really getting his due. But I find his descriptions of these two wacky events to be entertaining and well-drawn – my favorite call of the 1980 season.
Dodgers vs. Phillies, at Dodger Stadium. The Phillies are the World Champions and have taken the first two games of this homestand in two very tough games. Hall of Famer Steve Carlton is on the mound for the Phillies, looking for the sweep. The Phils lead 1-0 in the bottom of the second inning. The Dodgers have one on and no outs, and Ron Cey steps up. “The Penguin” launches a high drive to right field. Right Fielder Lonnie Smith leaps in the air and makes an unbelievable catch… or did he?
Manager Tommy Lasorda runs out to argue with umpire John Kibler. Tommy claims the ball hit the wall before it went into Lonnie’s glove, and therefore the play should have been ruled a hit, not an out. Kibler disagrees, and this only raises Tommy’s ire, to the point where Kibler tosses him out of the game. Then, Tommy really explodes, and Vin gives us a imaginative interpretation of what Tommy is actually saying…without actually saying it.
Once Tommy disappears into the clubhouse, order is restored. The Dodgers are still losing 1-0. But this was 1981 – the year everything went right for the Dodgers, for once. The next batter is Pedro Guerrero. He crushes a homer to center field, putting the Dodgers ahead, 2-1, with a classic Vin home run call. They would go on to win the game, 3-2, in extra innings, and win the World Series that year, stealing the championship away from the Phillies.
One of Vin's more famous calls. Fernando was in his rookie season and looking to go 8-0 to start the season, which would tie the major league record. He was cruising along against the Montreal Expos, but with two outs in the 9th inning, he gave up a game-tying homer to Andre Dawson. You could hear the air go right out of Dodger Stadium. It was so demoralizing.
But in the bottom of the 9th inning, the first batter was Pedro Guerrero. He smacked a home run to win the game for Fernando and the Dodgers, 2-1. Vin's call is a classic, as he invokes Fernando's name during it. Not to showboat, but because we were all pulling for Fernando, and it was like Vin spoke for all of us. Vin lets the crowd go on for 47 seconds, but I think this version I gave you is slightly edited down.
I awarded this one my "True Blue Ribbon" Mic Award for 1981 -- in a year that the Dodgers won the World Series, no less, this game early in the season was Vin Scully at the peak of his form. This is when Fernandomania was reaching a fever pitch in L.A. Vin puts on a clinic for how to build drama -- he trots out all the tools in his arsenal. He establishes an amazing, poetic rhythm, talks about baseball's timelessness, gives us the date, even utters a couple phrases in Spanish! ("Zurdo" is one of them - it means "southpaw," a reference to Fernando being left-handed.) The fact it's all extemporaneous makes it even more impressive. Still gives me goosebumps. If you wanted to bottle Fernandomania for someone, this comes closest to what it was like.