It’s Time for the Dodgers to Retire Fernando Valenzuela’s Number

This season the Los Angeles Dodgers are celebrating the eight players and two managers whose numbers they have retired. Nearly a generation has passed since the last one; Tommy Lasorda’s number 2 was retired in 1997. The time has come to add Fernando Valenzuela and his number 34 to this hallowed list.

Before the teenager Julio Urias burst upon the scene, Valenzuela was the youngest Dodger to make his debut on the mound. At the age of 19, he was first called up to the Dodgers’ bullpen in 1980. Upon arrival, he pitched 17 2/3 shutout innings, while helping the Dodgers into a first-place, division tie with the Houston Astros.

Valenzuela became a surprise starter on Opening Day in 1981, when scheduled starter Jerry Reuss was injured. Making the most of his opportunity, Fernando shut out the Astros 2-0. He then went on an incredible 8-0 start to the season, posting five shutouts and an ERA of 0.50.

By the end of his rookie season he led the majors in complete games (11), shutouts (8), innings pitched (192.1) and strikeouts (180). For context, one must consider this was back in the days when starting pitchers were expected to throw eight and nine innings. From 1981 to 1987, no NL starter won more games than Fernando.

He became the first player to win the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards in the same season.

In addition to his prowess on the mound, Fernando was one of the best hitting pitchers of his day, twice winning the Silver Slugger Award (1981, 1983).

Over his career, Valenzuela played in six All-Star games.  In the 1986 contest, he struck out five consecutive AL batters, tying a record set in 1934 by fellow southpaw screwballer, Carl Hubbell.

In 1990, he pitched a no-hitter. It was the second of the day. Before their game, Valenzuela and several teammates, including Mike Scioscia, watched former-Dodger Dave Stewart throw a no-hitter on television in the clubhouse. Afterward, Valenzuela remarked, “You’ve seen a no-hitter on TV, now you’re going to see one in person.” And then he went out and did it.

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His on-field accomplishments aside, the Dodgers should give special consideration to the intangibles surrounding Fernando’s time as a Dodger. Valenzuela almost single-handedly presented the Dodgers to L.A.’s Mexican-American community as a local sports entity to be followed and loved, and not as a symbol of corporate power that destroys neighborhoods.

Chavez Ravine was the name of the Mexican-American community that was displaced – with many residents forcibly removed – on the very spot Dodgers built their new stadium on after moving operations to Los Angeles from Brooklyn. As a result, the Dodgers were resented by many, who swore never to set foot inside the stadium. Thus, through their first twenty years in heavily Latino Los Angeles, the Dodgers’ fan base remained largely white.

All of that changed in 1981. Long before social media constructed brands, Fernandomania went viral. Valenzuela was much more than a baseball star – he became a community hero and a cultural icon. Fernando vastly expanded the Dodgers’ fan base through the Latino community surrounding Chavez Ravine and throughout the country.

Fernando Valenzuela-LA Dogers Pitching Rookie Senstation May 18, 1981 X 25590 credit: Manny Millan - staff

Valenzuela’s presence spun baseball’s turnstiles like no one had ever done before. Pre-Fernando, the Dodgers had reached the 3-million attendance mark only twice. During the height of Fernandomania (1982 to 1986), the Dodgers topped 3 million every season. In stadiums across the country, a Fernando Valenzuela start raised attendance numbers by an average of 13,000.

 “I truly believe that there is no other player in major league history who created more new fans than Fernando Valenzuela. Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Joe DiMaggio, even Babe Ruth did not. Fernando turned so many people from Mexico, Central America, South America into fans. He created interest in baseball among people who did not care about baseball.” – Jaime Jarrin, Dodgers broadcaster

Through all of his baseball success and the media fanfare, Valenzuela remained a humble and soft-spoken ambassador of goodwill for the team. Since his retirement from baseball, he continues to be an active member of the Dodgers family. He often appears at team-sponsored events, and has been a Spanish-language radio and television announcer for the Dodgers since 2003.

Former Dodgers owner Walter O’ Malley sent his scouts out in a search for “the Mexican Sandy Koufax”, and they found him in Fernando Valenzuela. Little did they know they also found the Mexican Jackie Robinson. Just as Jackie changed the face of baseball, Fernando forever changed the face of Dodger Stadium.

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Long after leaving the diamond, Fernando Valenzuela remains a hero to those who grew up watching him pitch. When the Dodgers retire his number, it will ensure he remains an inspiration for generations to follow.

 

 

Oscar Martinez

Oscar Martinez

I was born in the shadow of Dodger Stadium and immediately drenched in Dodger Blue. Chavez Ravine is my baseball cathedral, Vin Scully was the golden voice of summer all my life, and Tommy Lasorda remains the greatest Dodgers manager ever. My favorite things are coffee, beer, and the Dodgers beating the Giants. I also blog about my baseball card hobby at All Trade Bait, All the Time.

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37 thoughts on “It’s Time for the Dodgers to Retire Fernando Valenzuela’s Number

  1. The only Dodgers with retired uniform numbers are in the Hall of Fame with the exception of Jim Gilliam.

    If you are going to change the general rule about whose number to retire, where do you stop? What about Maury Wills, Willie Davis, Gil Hodges, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Eric Karros, Orel Hersheiser, etc., etc.?

    1. The fact that Jim Gilliam’s number is retired nullifies what you refer to as a “general rule”.
      There is no general rule, or baseball law in place. Gilliam is the prime example.

      Where does one stop? It stops when players or managers don’t deserve it. Ex. Grady Little
      He’s a crazy example, but to my point. The article stated my case as to why Valenzuela deserves it.

  2. It’s kinda silly that we can’t/won’t retire #34, yet we won’t let anybody wear #34 either. Make up our minds already!!

    I don’t know how other elite organizations do it; do they only retire Hall of Famers’ jerseys? Or do they have some of their own greats also retired? I’m with the mindset the Dodgers and Lakers currently have; those who are Hall of Fame players and who made significant contributions to the Dodgers get to have their jerseys retired.

    If Fernando isn’t a hall of famer, then no jersey retired, and we save #34 for Bryce Harper in 2 years :)))

    Meanwhile, Dodgerrick, do you know why Gilliam was allowed to have his jersey retired?

    1. Gilliam was a long-time Dodger who, when he retired as a player, became a coach. He died suddenly in 1978 due to a major brain hemorrhage at age 50 while he was still coaching and his number was retired 2 days later, I assume because of the nature of his death and his lengthy contribution to the Dodgers. (He was rookie of the year in 1953.)

  3. For on the field performance I would think Gil Hodges # would have to be retired first.

    Cultural impact might be a little harder to measure but I wouldn’t mind seeing his (Valenzuela’s) number retired. The only Dodger who had his number retired that I actually saw play was Don Sutton.

    And if I recall correctly both Sutton and Valenzuela pitched in relief during that thrilling final game of the 1980 season. I was at that game 🙂

    1. Agreed. Both #34 & #14 should be retired. Gil Hodges was my all time favorite Dodger. Look at the starting eight players for the powerhouse Dodgers and the late 40’s to mid 50’s. Most of their numbers are retired by the Dodgers.
      1B- Gil Hodges (not retired)
      2B- Jim Gilliam (retired
      SS- PeeWee Reese(retired)
      3B- Don Zimmer? (not retired and shouldn’t be)
      C – Campy (retired)
      RF – Carl Furillo(not retired and shouldn’t be)
      CF- Duke Snider (retired)
      LF – Sandy Amoros??(not retired and shouldn’t be)

      Of all the numbers NOT retired Gil Hodges should be.

      1. There’s a story about Gil Hodges who one summer in Brooklyn was in the middle of a bad slump. One Sunday morning a priest told his congregation ” It’s too hot for a sermon. Go home and pray for Gil Hodges”. Hodges, a devout Catholic, soon snapped out of his slump.
        Point is Gilly was not only loved by the fans like Campy and the Duke, he was beloved by them. I know, I was there.

      2. I think you forgot #42. Zimmer was a utility infielder who came up in ’54. Hodges probably deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, so it seems like retiring his uni is the least they could do. But at some point you’re going to run out of numbers.

        With due respect to Mr. Jarrin, I think he may underestimate Babe Ruth’s impact on the game. They built Yankee Stadium to hold all the people who wanted to see him, after all.

        1. I was thinking the same thing. Plus Ruth was credited, whether correctly is debatable, with saving the game of baseball after the Black Sox World Series scandal of 1919.

  4. Might a compromise be for a player who gets within 10% of the votes for HOF be close enough to retire his number and played 75% of their games as a Dodger?

    1. Bum
      I bet your all excited about the game tomorrow.

      At least the game starts early tomorrow.

      Those last two games, were really frustrating.

      I just wish that Roberts would stop sending that almost all rightie platoon, out there.

      Both Turner and Puig don’t help, because they are not hitting well against leftie pitchers either.

      You were right about Toles not getting overwhelmed out there.

      He got a hit in Saturday’s game, as a pinch hitter.

      And he got a hit in Sunday’s game, to keep the rally going.

      1. Seager helps you make your point MJ, as he plays all games and does it well.

        Yeah, I am ready to watch Joc again.

        Marlins and Dodgers checking on Arizona’s minor leaguer Shelby Miller.

  5. Look – everyone has a favorite player or former player. And not everyone’s jersey can be retired or they run out of numbers. Of the guys that I have seen who don’t have retired numbers I would vote for Wills (30), Garvey (6) and Orel Hersheiser (55). I’m not old enough to have seen the Brooklyn Dodgers, but would also vote for Hodges as I think that both he and Wills should be in the Hall of Fame.

    1. Garvey might have as many fans as he does dislikers.

      If we accept the early Mets as Brooklyn related, Hodges should get bonus points for Managing them.

      Maybe a player that averages 500 plate appearances for 10 years and played a key part of a World Series win….

  6. In another non related story to baseball: President Obama hung the CMOH around the neck of an 80+ year old soldier for his valor and heroism well above and beyond his duty. The heroic deed happened in Viet Nam in 1967.
    he piloted at Huey to rescue American troops trapped around an LZ. After the choppers rescued as many as they could, he ordered them to safety. He then returned alone 4 times in his Huey and under intense mortar rifle and small arms fire rescued the 44 American soldiers that were left to their demise at the hands of the enemy. Many of the 44 came to the ceremony to see him receive his CMOH.
    This has NOTHING to do with baseball but I thought I would share it with everyone, truly heartwarming and it caused me to shiver also shed a tear.
    I just wonder why in God’s Name did it take this GREAT Country so damned long to honor a great hero who saved 44 lives at supreme risk to his own and why nothing is on the internet about it???

    1. I did hear about it, and I do wonder why it took that long. There has to be a reason why, so let’s hear it!

      But good for that man ; very heroic

      1. Many thanks for that Wondering. I was a little emotional(still am) and I forgot mention his name. Thanks again.

    2. Because all we hear is about how this group or that group is victim.

      I turn on the tube and what do I see
      A whole lotta people cryin’ “Don’t blame me”
      They point their crooked little fingers ar everybody else
      Spend all their time feelin’ sorry for themselves
      Victim of this, victim of that
      Your momma’s too thin; your daddy’s too fat
      Get over it
      Get over it
      All this whinin’ and cryin’ and pitchin’ a fit
      Get over it, get over it
      You say you haven’t been the same since you had your little crash
      But you might feel better if I gave you some cash
      The more I think about it, Old Billy was right
      Let’s kill all the lawyers, kill ’em tonight (Sorry Rick – nothing personal)
      You don’t want to work, you want to live like a king
      But the big, bad world doesn’t owe you a thing

  7. Metals. Many get them who don’t deserve them. Many deserve them and never get them. Examples:
    1. An entire regiment was awarded this very same Medal Of Honor just for re-enlisting during the Civil War
    2. George Custer’s brother Tom was awarded two of them for capturing enemy unit flags during battles ( George, Tom, another brother, a brother-in-law and a nephew died at Little Big Horn! Five family members!)
    Never served but admire those who did so take my opinion as you wish: I don’t think any officer above the rank of Captain honestly is in a position to deserve a medal. Exception to air crew and Naval personnel. But did you ever see a general who didn’t have enough fruit salad to feed a village?

  8. The Vietnam War marked a time of social unrest that divided our nation like never before. Service members returning home with physical and emotional scars were greeted with an unprecedented level of disrespect and dishonor. The courage and sacrifice of our veterans cannot be overstated. When you encounter them, thank them for their service. You never know how powerful those words may be. Find your moment at http://www.Moments.org.

  9. On Fernando’s Number:

    Here’s the only problem I have with it:

    Fernando was a Dodger from 1980 until 1990. In 11 years with LA he was 141 and 116 with a 3.54 ERA and a 1.283 WHIP. Now, his first 7 years, he was nails, but his last 4 he had a a 1.50 WHIP.

    Then he played for 5 more teams and wasn’t very good. If he gets in, it is because of the Fernandomania that he created in 1981 -1986, but his numbers after that are very pedestrian. Koufax got in with 5 good years, but they were the best 5 years EVER in the history of baseball!

    Gil Hodges should be in. In 16 years as a Dodger, he hit 361 HR, 1254 RBI and batted .274 with a .360 OB% while OPSing .847! Gil Hodges has to have his retired. I do see both sides with Fernando…. and he created a lot of excitement for everyone, but especially Latinos!

  10. Mark, I saw that video on face book….very powerful…I served at that time, so I know the disrespect first hand…..now to retiring Fernando’s number………..I say no. But my reason is that he is not a hall of famer. He was a good pitcher, and he had some great accomplishments as a Dodger, but retiring a number should be reserved for those in the hall. As to Jim Gilliam, well I saw Jr. play, I saw his dedication to the organization. His sudden death was quite a blow to the team and they dedicated the series to Jr. He is my lone exception. Gil Hodges belongs in the hall. When he retired he was one of the all time leading RH home run hitters. He also was the BEST 1st Baseman of his era. Nobody was better. Tony Perez is in the hall, and his numbers are comparable to Gil’s . Fernando was only 20 games over .500 for his career….was he a cultural phenom? Yes, but not worthy of a retired number.

    1. Maybe the player that really gets the crowd excited should have his number retired. Game Over would qualify for that if it were not for roids.

      1. Do that, and you have guys wearing decimals. I think the honor should be reserved for HOFer’s. Gilliam is and was a worthy exception. The Angels retired a number for their former owner Gene Autry. That being said, no one has worn 34 for years…..intentional? who knows…

  11. Fernando’s record is skewed because he blew out his shoulder after being used heavily in his first seven seasons. He wasn’t as dominant as Koufax in his prime and he didn’t excel for as many years as Drysdale, but he was one of the best of his era.

    I think Gilliam may have been the only player who was on every Dodger championship team from ’55 to ’65. Hodges certainly deserved to be in the hall but maybe it was felt that there were enough players from that team already?

  12. The last two games were very disappointing. Basically they were given those two games and they did not take them. I do not know what to say about this team. A little like last year and that is what scares me. This kind of attitude will not and does not play well in play offs. Not enough of that cut throat attitude.

    Fernando does not belong in the Hall. Hodges does belong in the Hall. I agree with Snider. Jerry Kramer from the Packers is not in the Hall for the same reason. Of course he is an Idaho player.

    I just hope they do not trade for Longoria. We need a No. 2 starter, if we trade at all.

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