By Steven Herbert
City News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The Dodgers tonight will retire the No. 34 worn by legendary left-hander Fernando Valenzuela, breaking precedent to honor one of the most popular players in team history.
Sen. Alex Padilla, retired Dodger broadcaster Jaime Jarrín and Dodger president and CEO Stan Kasten are set to join Valenzuela in speaking at the 6:20 p.m. ceremony that will be televised by SportsNet LA before Friday’s 7:10 p.m. game against the Colorado Rockies.
Since the Dodgers began retiring jerseys in 1972, all but one of the 11 jerseys before Valenzuela’s were worn by members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The exception was Jim Gilliam, the longtime Dodgers infielder, outfielder and coach whose No. 19 was retired on Oct. 10, 1978, before Game 1 of the World Series, two days after he died from a massive brain hemorrhage at the age of 49.
When Kasten announced on Feb. 4 at the team’s annual FanFest that Valenzuela’s jersey would be retired, he said, “The one question that I continuously get asked, more than anything else, is about retiring Fernando Valenzuela’s number. The citywide call by our fans to honor him is truly remarkable.
“What he accomplished during his playing career, not only on the field but in the community, is extraordinary. He truly lit up the imaginations of baseball fans everywhere. It’s hard to envision a player having a greater impact on a fan base than the one Fernando has had.”
No one has worn 34 for the Dodgers since Valenzuela was released during spring training in 1991.
Retiring the number “had been kicking around with us for several years,” Kasten said, adding that it probably would have been done sooner if not for the disruption the COVID-19 pandemic created in the team’s promotional planning.
“It’s been clear what Fernando means to fans. Someone asked about him being an exception — I think that is the best word to describe Fernando’s accomplishments on the field, in the community and his connection to our fan base. Those are all exceptional.
“The main thing was the constant clamor I got from fans. As you know, I walk through the stands every night. I get all kinds of comments — some good, some bad. Mostly good. But the question I get more than any other is about retiring Fernando’s jersey. That convinced us this was the right thing to do.
“We had the policy. But at the end of the day, this just made more sense than just sticking to the policy.”
The Dodgers’ first jersey retirement ceremony came on June 4, 1972, when the No. 39 jersey worn by Roy Campanella, the No. 32 jersey worn by Sandy Koufax and the No. 42 jersey worn by Jackie Robinson were retired. Gilliam’s jersey was the next to be retired, followed in 1980 by the No. 4 jersey worn by Duke Snider.
The No. 24 jersey worn by manager Walter Alston was retired in 1983. The No. 1 jersey worn by Pee Wee Reese and the No. 53 worn by Don Drysdale were both retired in 1984. The No. 2 jersey worn by Tommy Lasorda was retired in 1997, the No. 20 jersey worn by Don Sutton in 1998 and the No. 14 jersey worn by Gil Hodges in 2022.
“To be a part of the group that includes so many legends is a great honor,” Valenzuela said. “But also for the fans — the support they’ve given me as a player and working for the Dodgers, this is also for them.
“I’m happy for all the fans and all the people who have followed my career. They’re going to be very excited to know that my No. 34 is being retired.”
Prior to Friday night festivities at Dodgers Stadium, Valenzuela will also be honored at Los Angeles City Hall where the City Council will issue a proclamation declaring the day as Fernando Valenzuela Day in Los Angeles.
A drone show celebrating Valenzuela’s career will follow Friday’s game.
The celebration of Valenzuela’s career will continue Saturday when the first 40,000 ticketed fans will receive a bobblehead of Valenzuela’s career and Sunday when the team will give out replicas of Valenzuela’s 1981 World Series ring.
Valenzuela ignited what would be dubbed “Fernandomania” when he went 8-0 with five shutouts, seven complete games and an 0.50 ERA in his first eight starts as a 20-year-old rookie in 1981, baffling hitters with his screwball and becoming the only player to win the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season.
The Dodgers purchased Valenzuela’s contract from Leones de Yucatan of the Mexican League on July 6, 1979, and assigned him to their Class-A California League affiliate in Lodi.
Valenzuela was taught to throw a screwball by Dodger pitcher Bobby Castillo following the 1979 season. Armed with the new pitch, Valenzuela led the Texas League in strikeouts in 1980.
Valenzuela made his Dodger debut in 1980, not allowing an earned run in 17 2/3 innings in 10 relief appearances and posting a 2-0 record.
When Jerry Reuss pulled a leg muscle 24 hours before his scheduled opening day start in 1981 and Burt Hooton wasn’t ready to fill in, Valenzuela became the Dodgers Opening Day starter, pitching a five-hit shutout in a 2-0 victory over the defending National League West champion Houston Astros.
Valenzuela was a six-time National League All-Star, led the league in strikeouts in 1981 and victories in 1986 and won Silver Slugger Awards in 1981 and 1983 as the league’s best-hitting pitcher. He pitched a no-hitter in 1990, his final season with the Dodgers.
Valenzuela was released by the Dodgers during spring training in 1991. He continued to pitch in the majors through 1997 and in Mexico’s winter league through 2006. He has been a Dodger broadcaster since 2003.
Valenzuela is sixth in Dodger history in strikeouts with 1,759, seventh in shutouts with 29 and games started with 320, ninth in victories with 141 and innings pitched with 2,348 2/3.
Valenzuela was inducted into the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013. The Mexican League retired his No. 34 in 2019. Valenzuela was inducted into the Legends of Dodger Baseball in 2019
“He created more baseball fans, and Dodger fans, than any other player,” said Jarrín, who called Dodger games from 1959-2022. “Thanks to this kid, people fell in love with baseball, especially within the Mexican community.”