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The Dodgers should add Zack Wheat & Fernando Valenzuela to the Ring of Honor

Or “Why the Dodger should solidify their past while building their future.”

Photo of Zack Wheat by Charles M. Conlon. Photo of Fernando Valenzuela by Jim Accordino

To whom it may concern:

Congratulations on adding Gil Hodges to the Dodgers Ring of Honor on June 4, 2022. It was a long overdue honor due to Mr. Hodges’ playing career in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Mr. Hodges’ induction is something that all Dodger fans can and should be proud of.

But there are two entries to the Ring that are glaring omissions that you have to power to rectify. The first needs no introduction as he had an actual mania named after him and he has had his number de facto retired for going on 30 years, Fernando Valenzuela.

In fact, the perfect time to have done to add Fernando Valenzuela to the Ring was last year on September 15, 2021. Yes, I was in attendance that game as the entire game, apart from the brawl and the protestors running onto the field, the atmosphere at Dodger Stadium felt like a family reunion.

You had the perfect narrator in Edward James Olmos right there and yet the opportunity was not taken! Pointing out the obvious is not the point of this letter. Regardless, for Dodgers fans of a certain age, it is impossible to overstate the importance of Fernando Valenzuela to the history of the Dodgers. Countless ink has been spilled on this subject by writers far more talented than I am and I am only happy to join the chorus, which hopefully will get a little louder with Mr. Hodges’ posthumous induction.

Instead, I shall devote the bulk of this letter to the promotion of someone who the Dodgers (and the fanbase) have basically forgotten, which is a shame because there are times that this franchise acts like it has no history prior to 1958.

And yet going back to the days of the Brooklyn Superbas and the Brooklyn Robins, this team had Hall of Fame-caliber players in a time where uniform numbers were not regularly used. So all you would need to do is put the respective logo up with the person’s name. For this proposed initiative, one name jumps to mind. Whenever historical Dodger offensive prowess is mentioned in a broadcast as to a contemporary Dodger, invariably a single name is usually mentioned is compared: Zack Wheat.

Anyone who is not a team historian likely responded to this suggestion by thinking that I have invented a player. I certainly have not.

Zachariah Davis Wheat played 19 seasons in the Major Leagues from 1909 to 1927, with 18 of these seasons being with Brooklyn. Even though, Wheat’s career ended approximately, literally 100 hundred years ago and that the first half of his career was in the “dead ball” era, where offensive was hard to come by and home runs were not really a thing, he is still the Dodgers all-time leader in:

  • Games Played (2,322) [Second place is Bill Russell at 2,181]
  • Hits (2,804) [Second place is Pee Wee Reese, who was not small, but a marbles champion at 2,170]
  • Doubles (464) [Second place is Duke Snider with 343]
  • Triples (171) [Second place is Willie Davis with 110]
  • Total Bases (4,003) [Second place is Duke Snider with 3,669]

Wheat is second in Runs Scored (1,255), trailing only Reese at 1,338, second in HBP (73), trailing only Justin Turner with 91, third in RBIs (1,210), trailing only Snider (1,271) and Gil Hodges (1,254), fourth in Wins Above Replacement (60.0 career WAR, among position players behind only Jackie Robinson (61.7), Duke Snider (65.3), and Pee Wee Reese (68.4), tied for sixth in batting average at .317, and seventh in walks with 632.

The only reason I can figure Wheat’s SLG and OBP numbers are not higher is that he played in an age where one simply did not hit home runs. Still, if Mookie Betts approached this level of offensive production (sans the power, don’t get me wrong, power is great), we, as a fanbase, would collectively be ecstatic.

Moreover, far be it from me to tell you how to do your business (apart from the time that I pointed out where you failed or that other time when you had signed off on a bad plan or that other, other time where you had another bad proposed plan involving a gondola that I am not prepared to talk about), but you can use Wheat as an entry to reintroducing legends of Brooklyn baseball into the modern Dodgers story.

Maybe I hold the minority view, but I am genuinely annoyed that the New York Mets have somehow positioned themselves as the gatekeepers to Brooklyn’s legacy with their modeling of Citi Field to look like Ebbets Field and the Jackie Robinson rotunda. Granted, I am a native Californian and the concept of traveling three hours and ending up several states over will forever be foreign to me. That said, I know enough to know that Queens is wholly distinct borough of New York than Brooklyn. I am all for Jackie Robinson being honored in as many ways as possible, but it feels off if another team is doing it.

I cannot believe that I actually have to write this sentence: Jackie Robinson was not a Met.

Shea Stadium was not as aesthetically pleasing as Ebbets Field, but admittedly that is an apples-to-oranges argument. If the Mets want to trumpet baseball history, they should make some actual baseball history. (To be fair, the Miracle Mets are right there and maybe hype the teams from the late 1980s that probably should have won more than one title - the 1988 Dodgers send their regards). But there is a reason that LOLMets was a bit for so long (and as an aside, what was with the baserunning of the 2021 Pirates?!?).

National Baseball Library / Charles M. Conlon

Is this letter just a roundabout way to ask for another bobblehead day? More or less, if you want a cynical take on it. I see my proposal as an opportunity to move forward on the idea while people are still vaguely thinking about it. I suppose if you wanted to squeeze extra money out of the fanbase (please don’t), you could make a specialty ticket night (please don’t), but honestly, it would probably be best to give as much exposure to this proposed initiative as possible. You could even invite Mr. Wheat’s family to Los Angeles if you were so inclined.

And if any Zack Wheat night was successful, the team would have an excuse to reintroduce other early era Hall of Fame Dodgers that most people have likely never heard of, including Leo Durocher (manager), Burleigh Grimes (the last legal spitballer in the Major Leagues), Wilbert Robinson (manager), and Dazzy Vance (the first true power arm of the Dodgers).

If nothing else, my idea would fill sometime until the next scheduled addition to the Ring of Honor in a few years’ time:

Clayton Kershaw on a day where he was perfect but ran out of gas. April 13, 2022. Target Field.
Michael Elizondo / TrueBlueLA

Just food for thought. As always, thank you for your time and consideration.

With regards,

Michael J. Elizondo

I’m on the COVID IL - so no Chicago for me this week. It would be easy to be discouraged, so I choose not to be. I am thankful for all of the opportunities that life affords me and the privilege of getting to share my stories and insights with you.