Dodgers should re­tire Valen­zuela’s num­ber

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Baseball - BY BILL PLASCHKE Los An­ge­les Times

The Mex­i­can Base­ball League an­nounced it is re­tir­ing Fer­nando Valen­zuela’s leg­endary num­ber 34.

Yet the Dodgers will not.

The San Diego Padres have long since re­tired Steve Gar­vey’s iconic num­ber 6 in honor of his five sea­sons there.

Yet the Dodgers, where Gar­vey played 14 years in­clud­ing the bulk of his 1,207 con­sec­u­tive games, will not.

The New York Mets have re­tired Gil Hodges’ num­ber 14 in mem­ory of the four years he man­aged there.

Yet the Dodgers, where Hodges starred for 16 years in both Los An­ge­les and Brook­lyn, will not.

By now it’s pretty clear the Dodgers have a num­bers prob­lem. In an era when their fan connection has grown ten­u­ous with the tele­vi­sion black­out, dur­ing a time when their con­stantly chang­ing ros­ters and line­ups have placed even more importance on the sta­bil­ity of their leg­ends, the Dodgers re­tired num­bers just don’t add up.

They have re­tired 10 num­bers, but only one of those has no connection to Brook­lyn, and none have been re­tired in the last 20 years. It is their pol­icy to re­tire only num­bers of play­ers or man­agers who have been in­ducted into base­ball’s Hall of Fame, yet it is a pol­icy fol­lowed by only about a third of ma­jor league teams, and one that the O’Mal­ley own­er­ship didn’t strictly fol­low.

The num­ber 19 of in­fielder Jim Gil­liam was re­tired just af­ter his un­ex­pected death from a mas­sive brain hem­or­rhage suf­fered while he was a Dodgers coach near the end of the 1978 sea­son. Gil­liam, who played on four World Se­ries cham­pi­onship teams, was never in­ducted into the Hall of Fame.

The num­ber 24 of man­ager Walt Al­ston was re­tired shortly af­ter his re­tire­ment in 1977, but it was six more years un­til he was in­ducted into the Hall of Fame.

Leo Durocher was in­ducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994 as a man­ager who recorded more than a third of his 2,008 ca­reer wins with the Dodgers, but his num­ber 2 wasn’t re­tired be­cause it was be­ing worn by Tom La­sorda at the time.

Then there’s Zack Wheat and Dazzy Vance, two Hall of Famers who set fran­chise marks for the Dodgers in the 1920s. Wheat played in an era be­fore base­ball play­ers wore num­bers, while Vance wore a num­ber 15 for only one Brook­lyn sea­son, and both are hon­ored with hall­way plaques.

The re­main­ing eight re­tired num­bers are all im­por­tant hon­orees – Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, La­sorda, Don Sut­ton, Sandy Ko­ufax, Roy Cam­panella, Don Drys­dale – but the Dodgers need to change their pol­icy to make room for more.

By strictly ad­her­ing to Hall of Fame en­shrine­ment, they are al­low­ing base­ball writ­ers from around the coun­try to dic­tate an im­por­tant part of their lo­cal her­itage. They are us­ing en­shrine­ment in a New York mu­seum to de­ter­mine what lives for­ever at Dodger Sta­dium. While the Guggen­heim folks have done great things in strength­en­ing the bond with the club’s his­tor­i­cal past, that sort of think­ing is out­dated and silly.

No­tice that Sut­ton is the only player with a re­tired num­ber who spent the en­tirety of his Dodgers ca­reer in Los An­ge­les, with­out an af­fil­i­a­tion with Brook­lyn. The Dodgers have been in town for 61 years and they can’t come up with more home­grown he­roes? Ac­tu­ally, they can, and here are some:

●The num­ber 34 of Valen­zuela should be re­tired. This is so ob­vi­ous that a gen­er­a­tion of Dodgers club­house work­ers, with­out or­ders from above, have qui­etly re­fused to give out the jersey since he left the team in 1990.

●The num­ber 30 of Maury Wills should be re­tired. He brought the stolen base into the mod­ern era. His impact on the or­ga­ni­za­tion was so great that Dave Roberts wears the num­ber in his honor.

●The num­ber 36 of Don New­combe should be re­tired. He helped in­te­grate the game along­side Jackie Robinson and Roy Cam­panella. His legacy ex­tends far beyond the play­ing field.

One could ar­gue that the num­ber 6 of Gar­vey should also be re­tired, even if crit­ics will claim this means the num­bers of Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey should also be re­tired. But Gar­vey was the most statistica­lly ac­com­plished. Gar­vey was the an­chor.

But, right now, Gar­vey’s num­ber is seen nightly on the back of hit­ting coach Robert Van Scoyoc. Then there is the case of Mike Pi­azza, who is in the Hall of Fame as a New York Met and played the ma­jor­ity of his ca­reer there, yet whose num­ber might be re­tired by the Dodgers if Pi­azza ever ended his grudge against the or­ga­ni­za­tion and agreed to be hon­ored.

“Our pol­icy is to re­tire the num­bers of play­ers who are in the Hall of Fame, and honor the oth­ers in ‘Leg­ends of Dodger Base­ball,’ ” said Lon Rosen, Dodgers’ ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer

This “Leg­ends of Dodger Base­ball” is a new­fan­gled honor de­but­ing this sum­mer. The re­cip­i­ents will be given a plaque that will hang in Dodger Sta­dium. The first three in­ductees are New­combe, Valen­zuela and Gar­vey.

It is the club’s at­tempt to avoid this whole re­tired num­bers con­tro­versy, but a hang­ing tro­phy and a re­tired num­ber just aren’t the same. Re­tired num­bers are liv­ing re­minders of the leg­ends’ ir­re­place­able part of the club’s his­tory. Nobody will ever wear their uni­form again. It’s a big deal, one that cel­e­brates the club’s connection with the com­mu­nity, and some teams un­der­stand this bet­ter than oth­ers.

The An­gels have re­tired five num­bers, but only Rod Carew and Nolan Ryan are in the Hall of Fame. The other three are men who nonethe­less made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the or­ga­ni­za­tion – owner Gene Autry, coach Jim­mie Reese, and short­stop and man­ager Jim Fregosi.

The New York Yan­kees have re­tired a base­ball-lead­ing 21 num­bers, yet not all are Hall of Famers. Heck, the Min­nesota Twins re­tired Kent Hr­bek’s num­ber, the Kansas City Roy­als re­tired Frank White’s num­ber, and the Texas Rangers re­tired the num­ber of man­ager Johnny Oates.

“In my judg­ment, no, there was a never a hard and fast rule,” said Fred Claire, former Dodgers gen­eral man­ager. “And even if there was, what does that have to do with the Dodgers of to­day? You can never ever do enough to honor the past play­ers. Never, ever. These are the peo­ple who cre­ated the foun­da­tion of what the Dodgers are to­day.”

The un­spo­ken fear is that once the Dodgers be­gin re­tir­ing num­bers of those not in the Hall of Fame, where do they draw the line?

“I un­der­stand those ques­tions,” said Claire. “You could make a case for Steve Gar­vey, but how do you say Gar­vey with­out say­ing Lopes, Russell and Cey? They are dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions that create con­tro­versy, but is all of that so bad? When the con­ver­sa­tion has to do with the great­est play­ers in the his­tory of the Dodgers, what’s wrong with start­ing a dis­cus­sion that might go on and on.”

The stan­dard for a re­tired num­ber should be one that applies to Valen­zuela. Was he more than just a player? Was his num­ber more than just a digit? Did his Dodger con­tri­bu­tions change not only the game, but the fran­chise cul­ture?

“Is there re­ally a ques­tion of Fer­nando and what he meant and what he ac­com­plished and his unique story?” Claire asked. “Is that a leg­endary num­ber? The answer is yes.”

No mat­ter what any­body de­cides, no Dodger player will ever again wear num­ber 34. The Dodgers might as well make it of­fi­cial. And that should just be the start.

ROBERT GAUTHIER Los An­ge­les Times

From left, Fer­nando Valen­zuela, Vin Scully and Steve Yea­ger on Oc­to­ber 25, 2017, at Dodger Sta­dium. It is ob­vi­ous to many that the num­ber 34 of Valen­zuela should be re­tired, so much so that a gen­er­a­tion of Dodgers club­house work­ers have qui­etly re­fused to give out the jersey since he left the team in 1990.

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