How Fernando Valenzuela could be in the Baseball Hall of Fame

With the Dodgers, the No. 34 had long belonged to Fernando Valenzuela — and only Fernando Valenzuela.

Starting pitcher Fernando Valenzuela No. 34 of the Dodgers.

No one else has worn the number 34 with the Dodgers since Fernando Valenzuela was released by the team in March 1991. His number will be retired at Dodger Stadium on Friday.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Los Angeles Times)

Consider that the Dodgers have not loaned the number 34 to a player since Valenzuela was summarily fired in March 1991. Consider that 32 years later, his number 34 jersey remains one of the most popular at Dodger Stadium. The unyielding connection demonstrates the great influence of Valenzuela on the organization and the region. Fernandomania is an indelible chapter in the history of the city.

However, the No. 34 at Dodger Stadium is not officially retired. The franchise’s rationale was simple: We only retire a player’s number if they are inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame after spending most of their career with the club.

That changes on Friday when the Dodgers finally bend their rule for Valenzuela and retire his number at a pregame ceremony at Dodger Stadium. The burly left-hander from Sonora will be the only one, aside from Jim Gilliam, whose members will retire without being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Though Friday’s event ended an ongoing debate about 62-year-old Valenzuela’s place in Dodgers history, it raised another well-known question: Is Valenzuela a Hall of Famer?

Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela takes on Mike Scioscia in practice in 1981.

Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela takes on catcher Mike Scioscia during the team’s first full practice session since the end of the 1981 players’ strike August 1. Valenzuela was a rookie this season, which culminated in the Dodgers winning the World Series.

(Rick Meyer/Los Angeles Times)

The argument for Valenzuela isn’t based on numbers; His stats put him below the established threshold for a starting pitcher in the Hall of Fame. Instead, it is based on emotional, unquantifiable considerations; The idea that Valenzuela mobilized and expanded a fan base in the country’s second largest market, spread Major League Baseball’s influence in Mexico and remains a cultural icon on both sides of the border.

Valenzuela didn’t come close to being inducted into the Hall of Fame when she was originally eligible for induction. The Mexican left-hander first appeared on the ballot in 2003. He received 6.2% of the vote, crossing the 5% threshold to be eligible for another year. However, in 2004 the figure dropped to 3.8% – a total of 19 votes – and he was dropped from the electoral list, reducing his chances of inclusion. To date, no Mexican-born player has been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

When Jaime Jarrín is asked about Valenzuela’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame, his mind often wanders.

Tom Lasorda holds a baseball with Fernando Valenzuela

Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda plays a baseball with Fernando Valenzuela in March 1983.

(Joe Kennedy/Los Angeles Times)

What if Tommy Lasorda hadn’t overused him all these years, pushing him to an average of 255+ innings, 96 complete games and the league lead in batters, against whom he faced three times, in his first full seven seasons? After all that work, what if Valenzuela relented and decided to have surgery to repair his injured shoulder while he was still in his early 30s? How different would the star’s career have been?

“If he had had surgery, he would have pitched more, won more, and sealed his Hall of Fame case,” Jarrín, the Dodgers’ former longtime Spanish-language radio host, said in Spanish. “But I think Fernando should be inducted into the Hall of Fame because while his numbers aren’t exceptional and he hasn’t been a pitcher for many years, no other player has done what he has done for baseball.”

The only current avenue for Valenzuela’s induction is through the Hall of Fame’s Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee. Every three years, eight players who played the majority of their careers in 1980 and later are selected by an 11-member historical review committee to appear on a ballot. To be elected, players must then receive 12 votes from a 16-member selection committee.

In December, first baseman Fred McGriff was unanimously selected through the process. Valenzuela, who declined to comment on this story, never appeared on the ballot. The next round is scheduled for December 2025.

(The Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee is one of them three era committees The Hall of Fame takes place annually. The others are the Contemporary Baseball Era Non-Players Committee – for managers, umpires, and executives who made contributions after 1980 – and the Classic Baseball Era Committee – for figures who contributed to the sport before 1980.)

Another way to exhibit Valenzuela’s impact in the museum is the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. Established in 2007, the award is presented to an individual who has “expanded the appeal of the game” with “character, integrity and dignity,” comparable to the late O’Neil, a longtime Negro Leagues player and the first African American coach in the MLB history.

“It’s important for fans to recognize that the Hall of Fame and Museum is more than just a plaque gallery,” said Hall of Fame President Josh Rawitch. “It’s also a three-story museum with all sorts of exhibits, and Fernando’s contributions are featured prominently in our Viva Baseball exhibit and other areas where we talk about the 1980’s Dodgers.”

Former Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela at Dodger Stadium in 2011.

Valenzuela at Dodger Stadium in 2011. He was on the Hall of Fame ballot for just two years before dropping out.

(Los Angeles Times)

“For any player where the debate continues as to whether they belong or not, I think it’s important that people realize that we’re documenting their story in-game, whether you’re in the plaque gallery or not, and Fernando will always do that. Be a big part of it.”

According to Rawitch, the museum is currently displaying various artifacts related to Valenzuela, from two of his bobble heads to a box of corn flakes that features him on the cover, to a baseball from his no-hitter in 1990 – his last season as a Dodger. It’s impossible to tell the history of baseball without Valenzuela.

But gamers have long since been inducted into the Hall of Fame for their influence — or fame — versus their accomplishments. Perhaps the most notable example to the contrary is Candy Cummings, who was a season six in the 1870s and is widely credited as the inventor of the curveball. He was inducted posthumously in 1939.

Valenzuela was on a Hall of Fame career for his first six seasons. He was named Rookie of the Year and a Cy Young Award winner and was a key figure in the Dodgers winning the 1981 World Series. He finished in the top five for Cy Young for three more seasons. He made the All-Star team every year, won two Silver Slugger Awards and received a Gold Glove. He had 97 wins with a 2.97 ERA and 84 complete games in 200 starts – and never ended up on the injury list.

He won a career-record 21-game ERA in 1986 with a 3.14 ERA over 269⅓ innings and led the majors with 20 complete games. He was only 25 years old but never regained that form.

For the rest of his career, he recorded a 4.23 ERA. He only completed three full MLB seasons after the Dodgers let him go days before Opening Day in 1991. Ultimately, Valenzuela won 173 games in his 17 seasons with a 3.54 ERA. He finished his career with a WAR of 41.3. By comparison, the average WAR for starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame is 73.3 — although conventional wisdom holds that a WAR of 60 or more warrants serious anchoring considerations.

Spanish-language Dodgers broadcaster Jaime Jarrin (left) speaks with Valenzuela before a game on Oct. 5, 2022.

Spanish-language Dodgers broadcaster Jaime Jarrin (left) speaks with Valenzuela before a game on Oct. 5, 2022.

(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Jarrín was Valenzuela’s interpreter when he burst onto the scene in 1981 as a chubby, unknown newcomer. Decades later, he was Valenzuela’s partner on the Dodgers’ Spanish-language radio show. In between, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a winner of the 1998 Ford C. Frick Award. He witnessed the impact Valenzuela had on Mexicans in Southern California.

“This guy came in, 19 years old, without speaking English, gordito, Indigenous features, long hair,” Jarrín said in Spanish. “He was the protagonist not for a game, not for a week, but all year. A spectacular year. You have no idea what it was like when Fernando pitched.

“It was always sold out. At the entrance of Dodger Stadium you could see vendors selling everything. Stamps, cards with Fernando’s photos. tacos Everything at all stadium entrances. Everything he did for baseball. He created more fans than any other player. Especially people who didn’t care about baseball before. People who didn’t care about baseball started watching because of him.”

Across the border, Julio Urías, who was born in Sinaloa a year before Valenzuela’s last litter in 1997, saw the influence of Valenzuela through his family. Valenzuela, Urías said, was one of the three megastars of the golden era of Mexican sport, along with boxer Julio César Chavez and soccer player Hugo Sánchez. His father, his grandfather, his uncles – the people who taught him baseball – all adored Valenzuela.

Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela holds up a magnum of champagne at a celebration in 1981.

Valenzuela celebrates the Dodgers’ victory over the Houston Astros in the NL Division Series on October 12, 1981. The Dodgers went on to win the World Series over the New York Yankees.

(Associated Press)

“To them, he’s the god of baseball in Mexico,” Urías said in Spanish.

Valenzuela was well received, Urías explained, partly because he was just a guy from a time Rancho to. He realized the dream of reaching the majors – of pitching at Dodger Stadium – seem achievable. A quarter of a century after Valenzuela’s release, Urías didn’t come to Los Angeles just for his talent as a hyped candidate. He, too, was a Mexican left-hander. He was also signed by scout Mike Brito. He was seen as the next Valenzuela. But he knows there won’t be another Valenzuela because Valenzuela was much more than just a pitcher.

“He’s always had that reputation because of what he did, what he lived, where he came from and how he got there,” Urías said in Spanish.

Urías will be there on Friday when Valenzuela will finally see his No. 34 alongside other franchise greats. It’s taken longer than expected, but Valenzuela’s place in Los Angeles is being cemented. Time will tell if anything changes in Cooperstown.

Emma Bowman

Emma Bowman is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Emma Bowman joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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