On Saturday at their annual FanFest, the Los Angeles Dodgers made a long overdue decision and righted a wrong. Dodgers President Stan Kasten announced to the crowd that the Dodgers will retire Fernando Valenzuela's No. 34 in 2023.
Valenzuela will join Jim Gilliam as the only non-members of the Baseball Hall of Fame to have their numbers retired by the team. Valenzuela pitched with the Dodgers from 1980-1990, skyrocketing to fame as a young left-hander from Mexico.
In 1981, Valenzuela was a 20 year-old surprise Opening Day starter, and proceded to shut out the Houston Astros 2-0. From that auspicious start, "Fernandomania" was born, as fans at home and on the road flocked to see Valenzuela start the season 8-0, with five shutouts and 0.50 ERA.
Valenzuela would help lead the Dodgers to a win over the New York Yankees in the 1981 World Series and would be named both the NL Cy Young Award winner and the NL Rookie of the Year. In 11 seasons with the Dodgers, Valenzuela went 141-116 with 1,759 strikeouts and represented the organization in six consecutive All-Star games (1981-1986).
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As the ace of the staff through most of the 1980s, Valenzuela averaged 29 starts and 213 innings a year for the Dodgers, which would lead to shoulder problems that closed his career with the team prematurely in the 1990 offseason.
Regardless of the numbers on the field not being Hall of Fame worthy, it's the numbers at the turnstiles that matter most. Before Valenzuela, despite being a popular team in Los Angeles, the Dodgers were missing with a key demographic in the city.
Those of Hispanic and specifically Mexican heritage had stayed away from Dodger Stadium due to the legacy of displaced Mexican-American families in the Chavez Ravine area of Los Angeles.
With Valenzuela pitching, a new generation of fans flocked to Dodger Stadium in droves, adopting Valenzuela as a hero of Mexican heritage. Overnight, the Dodgers were adopted by the largely Latino population of Southern California and continue to support the team to this day.
Since 2003, Valenzuela has been part of the Dodgers' Spanish language broadcasting teams on both radio and television, continuing his affiliation with the Dodgers organization. Though the number 34 has not been worn by another Dodger player since Valenzuela stopped playing, the team has finally honored Valenzuela's legacy by making it official.
The only thing left to say about this long overdue honor is: "It's about damn time."
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