Among the thousands of players who have worn a major league uniform, only hundreds stand out as some of the best. In Dodger Stadium, 10 numbers reside behind the left field foul pole to honor the most impactful members in Los Angeles Dodgers history, as well as the team’s days in Brooklyn. Missing in the company of greatness is a number that sparked mania within Los Angeles, Fernando Valenzuela’s No. 34.
As ‘Bryce Harper to the Dodgers’ rumors swirl around the internet, so to do the altered images of the free agent in the white uniform with the No. 34 stitched in red. While the number has not been retired, it has been untouched for nearly three decades.
But the possible signing of Harper may change the future of the significant number.
Valenzuela last took the mound at Dodger Stadium with the team’s home uniform during the 2017 World Series when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch after Vin Scully called to the bullpen for a left-hander.
The heartwarming moment between two greats in Dodgers history served as a reminder that one is immortalized in Dodger Stadium and the other is not. The No. 34 hasn’t graced the back of a Dodgers jersey since Valenzuela last added to the win column nearly 29 seasons ago.
As a broadcaster for SportsNet LA in Spanish, the 17-year Major League veteran is remembered as the pitcher from Mexico who created pandemonium in Los Angeles.
Nicknamed “El Toro,” the craze was well deserved with the effort left on the mound. A rookie-of-the-year award for the 1980 season set the standard for an illustrious career with the Dodgers.
With an earned-run average just north of 3.30 and a win-loss record of 141-116, Valenzuela was a prominent member of the Dodgers’ multiple postseason berths that led to two World Series trophies.
The first Mexican pitcher in MLB history to throw a no-hitter added to the growing résumé for the southpaw. 107 complete games and 29 shutouts in 11 seasons with Los Angeles earned Valenzuela a spot in the first class of “Legends of Dodger Baseball.”
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Instead of a number, Valenzuela will have a plaque residing somewhere in Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers’ claim to not have a written set of criteria when deciding to retire a number and it’s evident with first-base coach Jim Gilliam’s No. 19 sitting between Duke Snider’s No. 4 and Don Sutton’s No. 20. Prior to the 1978 World Series, Gilliam died after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage and his jersey was immediately retired by the organization.
Gilliam’s jersey is the lone number that isn’t inducted into the Hall of Fame.
If there is no set requirement, other than excellence and a long career in the team’s uniform, it bears the question why the No. 34 hasn’t been retired in honor of Valenzuela.
The 2019 season will be the first that Minnesota Twins fans won’t see catcher Joe Mauer suit up for a game since he burst on to the scene with the No. 7 on his back. A month after Mauer announced his retirement from a 15-year career, the Twins released on Twitter they would be retiring the catcher’s number.
When shortstop Derek Jeter hung up his cleats in 2016, the New York Yankees retired the famed No. 2 the following season and unveiled a plaque in Jeter’s honor that would be added to Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.
Neither player is yet eligible for consideration to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Valenzuela left an impact in Los Angeles, particularly in repairing the frayed relationship between the Dodgers and the Mexican community, all while setting franchise records on the mound.
Only one thing stands in between the official retirement of Valenzuela’s No. 34 and another great player making it their own: the Dodgers.