LOS ANGELES — Fernando Valenzuela emerged from the Dodger Stadium dugout Friday night in true Mexican fashion: serenaded by mariachis playing the classic “Viva México” as the crowd took part in shouting “¡Viva!” during the chorus.
It was an entrance fit for “El Toro.”
After years of wondering if it would ever happen, the Los Angeles Dodgers honored one of their most culturally significant players in franchise history with the retirement of Valenzuela’s No. 34 jersey.
Along with family, some of Valenzuela’s closest people in the organization – like former catcher Mike Scioscia and Hall of Fame Spanish announcer Jaime Jarrín – were on hand to congratulate the left-handed pitcher on his achievement. Dodgers radio announcer Charley Steiner was the host of the ceremony and said the name “Fernando” is one synonymous with the Dodgers, like “Jackie” and “Vin.” He also mentioned what Valenzuela did for the team away from the field.
“The man we honored tonight transcends what he did for the Dodgers,” Steiner said.
Valenzuela didn’t have many words for the crowd, but he got choked up in his speech, thanking everyone from the Dodgers, his family and the fans that followed him throughout his career.
“It’s a great pleasure for me to be to be part of the Dodgers for a little bit over 10 years,” he said. “Thank you very much. Gracias.”
Valenzuela walked down the left field line alongside his family to see No. 34 be unveiled in the Dodgers’ ring of honor, saluting the crowd in what he called “a very emotional day.”
Fernando Valenzuela’s Dodgers career
“Fernandomania” ran wild in the 11 seasons the Sonora, Mexico, native spent with the Dodgers. He made his debut in 1980 in some relief appearance, but he really burst onto the scene in 1981 at the age of 20, pitching a complete game shutout against the Houston Astros on opening day, en route to starting the season 8-0 with a 0.50 ERA.
“It seems like yesterday when this little pudgy kid who was 20 years old started opening day for us and lights the whole world on fire,” Scioscia said. “What you couldn’t see was the ice water in his veins. He proved how spectacular and magical everything was.”
He finished the season 13-7 with a 2.48 ERA and won both the NL Cy Young and NL Rookie of the Year awards − the first player to do so − as the Dodgers won the 1981 World Series. He finished his Dodgers career with a 141-116 record and a 3.31 ERA, ranking ninth in franchise history in wins. To cap off his accomplishments, he threw a no-hitter in 1990, his final year with the club.
Despite his play on the mound, Valenzuela’s impact on the organization’s Hispanic fanbase might be his greatest achievement. His immediate success gave Hispanics and Latinos someone to cheer for in a city they have long resided in, expanding the fanbase while paving the way for several Mexican players in MLB. More than 30 years later, it’s hard to go to Dodger Stadium and not see a fan donning his No. 34 jersey.
Fernando Valenzuela: ‘I never expect’ to have jersey retired
Friday marked the end of a long debate within Los Angeles, as there was doubt Valenzuela’s jersey would ever be retired. The Dodgers never issued No. 34 again after Valenzuela’s last game with the team, but the jersey wasn’t retired because the Dodgers’ criteria is a player has to spend the majority of their career with the team and has to be in the Hall of Fame – with the exception of former player and coach Jim Gilliam in 1978. Valenzuela never made it to the Hall of Fame after spending two years on the ballot in 2003-04.
That’s why, despite decades of fans calling for Los Angeles to retire the jersey, Valenzuela recalled all he could say was “really?”
“It really got me by surprise. I never expected it,” Valenzuela told reporters.
But to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, the honor was “long overdue,” and he believes he has a case to be in the Hall of Fame.
“His legacy, impact is going to last forever,” Roberts said. “Not only for the Dodgers, but all of Major League Baseball. He’s been an inspiration for many people. Just to be able to break barriers, and just to be so humble while doing it.”
The Dodgers will be honoring Valenzuela for the entire weekend series against the Colorado Rockies in a callback to the craze that started it all: “Fernandomania weekend,” starting it with a 6-1 win Friday. Los Angeles City Council also declared Friday as “Fernando Valenzuela Day.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Los Angeles Dodgers retire Fernando Valenzuela’s jersey in ceremony
Source: Yahoo Sports