Dodgers, at fans’ urging, finally retiring Fernando Valenzuela’s number

No. 34 has been worn by the No Dodgers since Fernando Valenzuela in 1990.

It was informally set aside for the past 33 years, a gesture made in reverence to the left-hand phenomenon of Echohuaquila, Sonora, Mexico, which sparked “Fernandomania” and rallied the Mexican community in Los Angeles and abroad with his brilliant game.

One of the most impactful Dodgers since the franchise moved west 65 years ago, Valenzuela didn’t seem uncomfortable with the pressure when injuries to other members of the rotation forced him to start on Opening Day in 1981. The quiet and precocious 20-year-old won each. through his first eight games, throwing seven complete games and five shutouts. “El Toro” surrendered just two runs in 63 innings during that time, bringing fans in droves to witness the phenomenon.

It’s fitting, then, that even decades later, fan persistence eventually helped convince the Dodgers to buck tradition and permanently reserve No. 34 for Valenzuela.

Dodgers President and CEO Stan Kasten announced Saturday that the team will retire Valenzuela’s number this summer as part of a three-day weekend celebration, starting with a Ring Ceremony Honor on August 11.

“I walk the stands every night,” Kasten said. “I get all kinds of comments … but the question I get more than any other is about retiring Fernando’s shirt. That convinced us that this is the right thing to do.”

With the exception of Jim Gilliam, who died suddenly in 1978, the Dodgers had followed a long-standing unofficial policy of retiring only the number of Hall of Famers.

Now, finally, there are two exceptions to the rule.

“I was hoping they would,” said Hall of Fame broadcaster Jaime Jarrín, who worked as Valenzuela’s translator during “Fernandomania” and later worked alongside him in the Dodgers’ Spanish booth. “I don’t know why they waited. They could have done this several years ago. But … it’s great. It’s great.”

Valenzuela, a member of the Dodgers’ Spanish-language broadcast team since 2003, learned the news Tuesday.

He thought he was being called to Dodger Stadium to talk about the next season’s broadcast. Instead, in a meeting on the mound, Kasten informed him of the club’s decision.

reallyValenzuela replied in disbelief before smiling. He kept it a secret for the past week, allowing the Dodgers to make the announcement at their annual FanFest.

“They caught me by surprise,” Valenzuela said Saturday. “But then I realized, ‘Well, I’ve been waiting for this.’ It’s the best feeling.”

For years, fans asked Valenzuela when the team was retiring his number. I would tell them I had no hands. The demands only grew when the Dodgers celebrated 40 years of Fernandomania in 2021. But he hadn’t met the team’s criteria, much to the chagrin of the Los Angeles faithful.

Valenzuela is not among the Dodgers’ players in the National Baseball Hall of Fame – he was removed from the ballot after receiving only 3.8% of the vote in his second year of eligibility in 2004, although remains one of the most beloved. Fans and friends continue to support his cause.

“The things he did for the community, for baseball, I think he deserves to be in the Hall,” Valenzuela’s broadcast partner Pepe Yñiguez said Saturday.

Like Jackie Robinson, Fernando is among a handful of Dodgers greats who could only be recognized by name. The late Vin Scully once referred to Fernandomania as “almost like a religious experience”. It was a main attraction.

The Dodgers averaged 42,523 fans per game in 1981. Next closest were the Yankees with 31,654. Valenzuela’s beginnings were a different show. On opening day, he shut out the Astros in front of 50,511 fans. In his eighth start, a crowd of 53,906 fans watched Valenzuela throw a complete game against the Expos on a Thursday.

Even the opposing crowds grew exponentially. It drew 46,405 fans to Montreal’s Stade Olympique on May 3 and 39,848 in a shutout win at New York’s Shea Stadium five days later. The average attendance at their respective venues this season: 27,403 and 13,543.

Guided by his signature screw, a pitch he learned from fellow Dodger Bobby Castillo to complement his fastball and curveball, Valenzuela became the only pitcher never to win the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year same season His magical season ended with a World Series title, thanks in part to his Game 3 victory against the Yankees.

More than 40 years after the start of Fernandomania, the fans have not forgotten the show.

“If people hear that their name is going to be mentioned in some way, or their picture is going to be on the screen, they immediately turn and look at my stand there looking for Fernando,” Jarrín said. “Then the applause. People love him.”

Valenzuela’s rookie season ended with 11 complete games, eight shutouts and a Major League-leading 180 strikeouts. He helped grow the game around the world and became a cultural icon in the process, so much so that the club’s long-time manager Mitch Poole did not want to give away his number after the Valenzuela’s departure from the Dodgers.

Something similar had happened before. Three years before Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 was retired by the Dodgers, it briefly belonged to a reliever named Ray Lamb in 1969. Poole did not allow that mistake to be repeated. As Yñiguez recalled Saturday, Manny Ramirez once asked for No. 34 after joining the Dodgers in 2008. Ramirez’s No. 24 with the Red Sox had already been retired in honor of Walter Alston, for which so his next choice was the number of his friend and former Boston teammate David Ortiz. But Ramirez understood when his request was denied.

“‘OK, I respect The Toro,'” Yñiguez recalled Ramirez saying. “‘Don’t give me that, give me 99’.”

Now, there will be no confusion. You don’t have to avoid the rules.

Valenzuela finished his 11-year career with the Dodgers with six All-Star appearances, 141 wins and one no-hitter. He finished his 17-year major league career as the all-time leader in wins (173) and strikeouts (2,074) among Mexico players.

Those numbers haven’t made him a Hall of Famer yet. But at least at Dodger Stadium, his number will live forever by his side.

“He belongs there,” Jarrín said.

Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. He previously served as editor of the Dodgers’ digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @Rowan Kavner.

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