Fernando Valenzuela Finally Gets a Much Overdue Honor from the Dodgers, Why Did it Take So Long?

The Dodgers are finally retiring Fernando Valenzuela’s number 34. This honor is richly deserved and overdue.

For decades, the long-time clubhouse manager Mitch Poole has kept the iconic 34 unavailable to players in honor of Fernando. Through all that, the number was never officially retired because the Dodgers have a policy of only retiring the numbers of Hall of Fame players (save for the unique case of Jim “Junior” Gilliam’s number 19 after his passing in 1978). This past February at FanFest, Dodgers president Stan Kasten made the announcement that the unofficial 34 retirement era was over.

Where it All Started

Etchohuaquila is where the Fernando Valenzuela legend began. The Valenzuela family was considered rich because they had a light bulb in their adobe little house where the large family lived. As a 15-year-old, Valenzuela signed his first professional contract to pitch in the Mexican League.

If legendary Dodger scout Mike Brito didn’t face a then-unknown pitcher named Bobby Castillo in a semi-pro baseball game, there would be no Fernando.

The Dodgers signed Castillo and made Brito a scout.

Brito was assigned to scout a shortstop in the Mexican League, but a young left-hander caught his eye. Brito convinced the Dodgers to spend $120,000 to buy Valenzuela. Since Valenzuela didn’t have a blazing fastball, the Dodgers thought he needed another pitch. The Dodgers enlisted Castillo to teach Valenzuela a screwball (a reverse curveball), and Valenzuela learned it quickly.

In September 1980, as a 19-year-old, Valenzuela pitched 17 scoreless innings in relief. Since the Dodgers lost Don Sutton to free agency, they were relying on Jerry Reuss to be their ace entering the 1981 season. However, he injured his calf and manager Tommy Lasorda called on a 20-year-old Valenzuela to start on opening day that year.

He pitched a 2-0 shutout against the Astros and the beginning of “Fernandomania” was underway.


Over his first 8 major league starts, Valenzuela had 8 wins, no losses, and a 0.50 ERA. At the end of the 1981 season, which was strike-shortened, Valenzuela was named the National League Rookie of the Year, won the National League Cy Young Award and Silver Slugger, and helped the Dodgers defeat the mighty New York Yankees to win the World Series.

When Valenzuela pitched, everyone in Los Angeles stopped what they were doing to watch or listen to the radio. He almost never came out of the game, pitching 107 complete games during his career. In 1986, when he led the National League in wins, he hurled 20 complete games. On June 29, 1990, Valenzuela pitched a no-hitter.

During the 1980s, Valenzuela was the face of the Dodger franchise and increased the interest in baseball from the Mexican community. Valenzuela should have had this honor years ago for not only his impact on the Dodgers, but his impact on the culture of baseball. 

Tonight at Dodger Stadium, a decades-long wrong will finally be righted.


  1. I still believe that Steve Garvey should have his number retired first. He has more accomplishment like the longest NL consecutive games played as a Dodger

  2. I have been a Dodgers fan for 69 years. My idol, since the late 1950s, was Gil Hodges. I waited 50 years for the Dodgers to retire Hodges’ No. 14, but I was always reminded of the club’s policy to retire numbers only of players who had been inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Hodges was inducted last July, and the Dodgers finally retired his number. It’s interesting that the Dodgers wouldn’t make an exception for Hodges, but they’re making one for Fernando Valenzuela. Interesting, but not surprising. As for Fernando’s fans wondering “what took them so long,” well, Gil Hodges’ legions of fans wondered the same thing for a half-century.

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