An Exciting Opener
Though the Los Angeles Dodgers had their first opening day shutout since 1981 when Fernando Valenzuela pitched, the Dodgers might not have the same fate this year as they did in 1981. Though this season opening day does parallel the 1981 opening day for the Dodgers, the teams do not resemble each other. Nobody knows if the 2001 Dodgers can play well enough to win their division, but the 2001 Dodgers should be exciting to watch if opening day is any indication.
Chan Ho Park replaced the injured Dodger ace Kevin Brown as the opening day Dodger starter in 2001. Similarly in 1981 rookie Fernando Valenzuela replaced the injured Dodger ace Jerry Reuss. Both Park and Valenzuela pitched shutouts. However, Valenzuela's performance was more impressive than Park's performance. Valenzuela was a twenty-year-old rookie who shutout the Houston Astros, a good team. Park, who led the Dodgers in wins in 2000, shutout the Milwaukee Brewers who struggled to score runs in 2000 and may struggle to score in 2001. Valenzuela's shutout triggered Fernando mania, and it put him on route to win the National League Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards. Park's performance will not trigger Park mania, and he probably will not win the National League Cy Young award. Comparing Valenzuela's and Park's shutouts is not fair to either pitcher.
Comparing this year's version of the Dodgers to the 1981 Dodgers is not fair to and puts undue stress on this year's club. Most of the 1981 Dodgers had played together for a long time whereas the 2001 Dodgers are trying to establish communication. The Dodger infield of 1981 had played together for nine years. This year's infield has not played together much before. Nobody questioned if Davey Lopes could get on base or Steve Yeager and Mike Scioscia could catch satisfactorily as they questioned if Tom Goodwin can get on base enough and Chad Kreuter, Paul LoDuca, and Angel Peña can catch satisfactorily. Tom Lasorda, an experienced manager, piloted the 1981 Dodgers to the World Series whereas Jim Tracy is new at managing at the major league level.
The 2001 Dodgers will establish their identity. Because the Dodgers had not won a playoff game since 1988 and the Dodger management has spent much money on this year's payroll, the Dodgers have undeserved pressure on them to win. The Dodgers do not need added pressure to succeed when the media compare them to the great Dodger teams of the past.