The Dodgers finally, finally announced their intent to retire Fernando Valenzuela’s number. Rather than focus on the negatives of the delay, including not making this obvious decision while Vin Scully was still alive or while Jaime Jarrín was still active with the team, I will instead focus on the team doing the right thing.
It is great that the Dodgers are going to have a weekend in August 2023 to finally honor Valenzuela. If I were to offer a suggestion to the team, it should basically copy what was done in September 2021. Plus, Edward James Olmos is getting up there in years, and he did a really good job last time.
Now while the next Dodger to have his number retired might be an open question, I would continue to argue that there are Dodger Hall of Famers that are continued to be outright ignored by the team. This state of affairs makes no sense considering that this team is continuing to act 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 has literal Hall of Fame-caliber players in a time when uniform numbers were not regularly used. Again, all you would need to do is put the respective logo up with the person’s name.
While the team has finally gotten it right with Valenzuela, there’s still more work to be done.
Whenever historical Dodger offensive prowess is mentioned in a broadcast as to a contemporary Dodger, invariably a single name is usually mentioned: Zack Wheat. Wheat remains the forgotten Dodger and it’s long past time for the team to reconnect with its past.
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 nearly 100 hundred years ago and the first half of his career was in the “dead ball” era, where offensive prowess 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, 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 the now-departed Justin Turner with 96, 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 slugging percentage and on-base percentage 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, bordering on rapturous.
Moreover, far be it from me to tell you how to do your business (apart from the times 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 have another bad plan involving a gondola), but you can use Wheat as an entry to reintroducing legends of Brooklyn baseball into the modern Dodgers story, including Burleigh Grimes, Dazzy Vance, and Wilbert Robinson.
I may hold the minority view, but I am still genuinely annoyed that the New York Mets have somehow positioned themselves as the guardians of Brooklyn’s legacy with their modeling of Citi Field to look like Ebbets Field and the Jackie Robinson rotunda. 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.
But even if the team cannot be bothered to honor its history, which is fine because I can whip this letter out as long as necessary to get my way, then the Dodgers can finally make some additions to its Legends of Dodger Baseball wing, which currently includes Maury Wills, Steve Garvey, Don Newcombe, Fernando Valenzuela, and Kirk Gibson.
These players had careers ranging from arguable Hall-of-Famer to “pretty darn good while in Dodger blue.” With the re-examination of Valenzuela’s career to finally be granted an official honor that he should have had years ago, it is time to officially deem this person a Legend of Dodger Baseball even though he did not have a Hall of Fame career. This person has established a folksy presence in a second act where the majority of fans notice when he’s not around.
I speak of one man, one bulldog to rule them all.
Can you imagine the Dodgers without Orel Hershisher? Would you even want to? Besides this man is far too humble to seek any sort of accolade from the team, which if you think about it is a Dodger attribute through and through.
Should Hershisher have his number retired? Arguably, and honestly, I would probably say no.
But should he be added to the Legends of Dodger Baseball wing? Absolutely.
And if this initiative works, maybe induction can be used as a carrot to bring a couple of prodigal former catchers back into the fold. Or maybe the team can reunite and keep this momentum going with a certain redheaded now-ex-third baseman who was not truly appreciated until he was gone once he finally decides to hang up his cleats.