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Fernando Valenzuela’s number 34 will finally be retired by the Dodgers

“He belongs there. It’s just fantastic,” said Jaime Jarrín. “Now he’ll be there forever.”

Dodgers Pitcher Fernando Valenzuela during MLB Playoff Game 1985 Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — It took nearly 34 years, but the Dodgers on Saturday made official that no player will ever again wear number 34, retiring the uniform number of franchise great Fernando Valenzuela.

Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten made the proclamation during the team’s FanFest at Dodger Stadium on Saturday, bringing Valenzuela up on stage to announce the news publicly.

Privately, Kasten told Valenzuela a few days earlier, also on the field at Dodger Stadium. This time it was on the mound, with the 11 other retired numbers on the base of the club level down the left field line visible in the background. Kasten’s ruse was to talk to Valenzuela about the Spanish-language broadcast team for the 2023 season.

Valenzuela took the news in stride, showing little emotion, much like his attitude playing career, which helped him pitch for 17 seasons, the first 11 of which were with the Dodgers.

“I thought they were just joking,” Valenzuela said Saturday. “I guess not.”

The Dodgers have a longstanding policy of only retiring the numbers — or microphones in the cast of announcers Vin Scully and Jaime Jarrín — of Hall of Famers. The lone exception to that rule was Jim Gilliam, the longtime player and coach in Brooklyn and Los Angeles whose number was retired just two days after his sudden death before the 1978 World Series.

Valenzuela’s impact on the Dodgers was enormous, and immediate. He won his first eight starts as a rookie in 1981, including five shutouts, allowing only four total runs during that time while pitching nine innings each time. That spawned Fernandomania, making him one of the most popular figures in sports, let alone baseball.

He won National League Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award that season, still the only player to do so in the same year. He followed that up with a 2.21 ERA in five starts that postseason, helping the Dodgers to their first World Series win in 16 years.

Valenzuela was a workhorse for the Dodgers, leading the majors in innings over his first seven full seasons, and finished in the top five in Cy Young voting three more times. He made six All-Star teams, he pitched a no-hitter, and won 173 games over his 17 seasons.

But more importantly was how beloved he was by the fans in Los Angeles, as the Dodgers’ first true Mexican star.

“He’s one of the first things you learn about when you come to this organization,” Max Muncy said Saturday. “Obviously everyone knows Jackie [Robinson], the barrier that he broke, and the impact he had on this game, but one of the first people you learn about is Fernando.”

“He was such an impactful person and player with the Dodgers,” manager Dave Roberts said. “From here on out, and even before today’s number retirement of the number, when you thought of the Dodgers and 34, you thought of Fernando. Now it’s more finalized.”

Valenzuela’s impact on the franchise was immense enough that nobody on the team has worn number 34 since Valenzuela was released in spring training in 1991. They had, for all intents and purposes, retired his number, but the lack of formal recognition made it a hollow gesture which was finally rectified on Saturday.

“Someone asked about the fact that’s he’s an exception, but I think that is the best word to describe his accomplishments on the field, in the community, and his connection to our fanbase,” Kasten said. “Those are all exceptional.”

Kasten mentioned Saturday that the Dodgers considered retiring Valenzuela’s number a few years ago, but with no fans in the stands during the pandemic season in 2020 and limited fans for the first half of 2021, many promotions were pushed back. That doesn’t hold much water considering one of those promotions was in April 2021, for the 40th anniversary of the 1981 team for which the rookie Valenzuela was so prominent.

That would have been a perfect time to honor Valenzuela by retiring his number, but much like hundreds of major league batters when facing one of Valenzuela’s screwballs, the Dodgers struck out.

At the time, Valenzuela had a subdued reaction per usual. “If anybody wants to wear it, it’s fine. If somebody is asking for that number, no problem,” he said then. “I know it’s going to happen sooner or later, but who knows?”

Truth is, Valenzuela rarely gets mad about almost anything, at least outwardly.

“He’s very humble, and he’s very private. So it doesn’t surprise me that he didn’t react,” said Jarrín, who was Valenzuela’s translator and confidant in the early years of his playing career, then his broadcast partner on Dodgers games for the last 19 years.

Jarrín, who retired after last season, was overjoyed at FanFest for Valenzuela. Finally.

“I was hoping they would do it. I don’t know why they waited. They could have done this several years ago,” Jarrín said. “But they are retiring his number. It’s great, it’s great.

“He belongs there. It’s just fantastic. Now he’ll be there forever.”

A few days later, Valenzuela still seemed surprised at the honor, but was clearly touched by it.

“Fans for years have asked me when they are going to retire the number, but it was out of my hands,” he said. “But this is big. It’s big.”

The Dodgers plan to honor Valenzuela for an entire weekend from August 11-13 when the Rockies come to Dodger Stadium. Friday night is when number 34 is retired. Saturday will feature a Valenzuela bobblehead giveaway, and Sunday will have a replica 1981 championship ring giveaway.

Kasten said whether the now-14-deep ring of honor will remain on the base of the club level in left field remains to be seen. He said he’ll work with Janet Marie Smith, the club’s executive vice president of planning and development, to see if there’s a better way to display those plaques.

Valenzuela, who’s faced 5,055 batters from the mound at Dodger Stadium in regular season and postseason games, and has been on that field for countless ceremonies since his playing days ended, said he’s not sure what to expect during the ceremony on August 11.

“I’ve never been in those situations. I’ve had bases loaded, but nothing like that,” Valenzuela said. “It’s going to be exciting. I’ll probably be thinking, ‘This happened to me?’”

Yes, Fernando, it did. Finally.