On August 11, the Dodgers will officially retire the No. 34 of Fernando Valenzuela at Dodger Stadium, fulfilling the dreams of so many fans. In truth, no other Dodger has worn the number since Valenzuela first put it on in 1980, but this moment sanctifies.
I’d like to take you through the most important moments of Valenzuela’s Dodger career — 15 of them — saving the best for last. Here we go …
During my time working for the Dodgers, covering the team from the inside out, I marveled at the ease with which Ken Gurnick navigated the clubhouse.
Even though the same employer signed the players’ paychecks and my own, I often felt like an intruder. In contrast, Gurnick was part of the fabric. I recall how the longtime Dodger beat writer chatted as easily with a short-lived Dodger like Mike Bolsinger as with franchise icon Clayton Kershaw.
By the time he retired from the major leagues in 1987 after a 16-year career, Cey hit 316 home runs and 328 doubles. He drove in 1,139 runs. He scored nearly 1,000. If he wanted to get crazy, he could note that he walked more than 1,000 times and had an on-base percentage (you know, that elitist statistic) of .354.
Cey played in six All-Star games. He shared an MVP award for a World Series where his heroics were plain for anyone to see.
Arguably the best third baseman of all-time, Mike Schmidt, played in the same era as Cey. Another no-doubt Hall of Famer, George Brett, was the American League’s bellwether. After that pair, it would have been no crime for Cey to see himself in the hot corner’s highest echelon.
“Mike Schmidt was unquestionably the dominant NL third baseman from the mid-70s to the late ’80s, but Cey would have to be the No. 2,” wrote pioneering analyst Bill James.
Years later, fellow Dodger alum Tim Wallach introduced Cey to baseball’s statistical revolution, and it more than validated his inner beliefs. It exceeded them.
“Timmy came up to me one day when I was at the park,” Cey recalled in an interview. “He said, ‘I want to tell you that you are so much more valuable in our era of baseball than you were in your own.'”
Based upon wins above replacement, Cey is the No. 6 Dodger position player of all time, behind four Hall of Famers from Brooklyn (Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson and Zack Wheat) and the Californian who remains the franchise’s all-time hits leader (Willie Davis). Cey has the highest WAR of any Dodger position player of the past 50 years.
From 1970 through 1990, Cey’s WAR ranks 28th among all major-leaguers. Of the 27 ahead of Cey, 17 are in the Hall of Fame.
Of the 27 ahead of Cey, six are third basemen: Schmidt, Brett, Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, Wade Boggs and Darrell Evans.
Of the 27 ahead of Cey, only two were Dodgers, both of them longtime American Leaguers: Eddie Murray and Willie Randolph.
The title of Cey’s new memoir, written with longtime Dodger beat reporter Ken Gurnick, is Penguin Power. You can find the inspiration for that title in any number of chapters — not the least being an appreciation of a great nickname — but without a doubt, one of those inspirations is for contemporary fans to understand Cey’s powerful place in Dodger history.
“Just like I think that Dodger era didn’t get the credit it deserved for the things it accomplished, I don’t think Ron did either,” Gurnick said in an interview. “I think Ron’s right that he’s not in the top 1 percent of third basemen, but he’s probably right behind it. If you look at what he achieved through the prism of analytics … he did what they wanted him to do, and he did it really well in all phases of the game, and the numbers back that up.”
Perhaps more importantly, Penguin Power shares the stories behind that career in a breezy, invigorating style: not only Cey’s journey to greatness, but the incredible experiences he had along the way.
“It’s natural to me to say, ‘Hello,’ to everyone. To wave to those little old ladies who haven’t missed a game. I look forward to seeing them. In life, you’re either a people person or a private person. I’m a people person. I like dealing with groups of people. I think I can get along with banker’s sons and blacks from the ghettos. When I retire, I’d like to go into politics.”
— Steve Garvey, speaking to Pat Jordan, Inside Sports, “Trouble in Paradise,“ August 31, 1980
It didn’t go without saying that Dodger first baseman Steve Garvey would run for office someday, but it went without questioning. In the 1970s, some would contend that Garvey came across more like a politician killing time as an All-Star ballplayer than the reverse.
Rookie sensation James Outman of the Dodgers has been in a slump. Since April 26, not only had he been struggling at the plate (.591 OPS), but he had struck out in more than 40 percent of his plate appearances. In his most recent 12 at-bats entering Wednesday, he had no hits while striking out six times.
And then in Wednesday’s game against the Minnesota Twins, Outman singled, stole a base and scored in the fourth inning. And in the seventh inning, he hit — he flicked, really — a tiebreaking grand slam.
Just what the Dodgers ordered. In fact, the Dodgers have gotten reliable delivery on what they’ve ordered for the better part of a month.
The 7-3 victory over the Twins was the Dodgers’ 18th in their past 23 games. After starting the season with a 10-11 record, Los Angeles now tops the entire National League at 28-16. It might seem dubious given the franchise’s tepid offseason moves, but the Dodgers have all the panache of a team that will once walk the runway in October.
At the same time, the Dodgers got a tough reminder Wednesday of how quickly we can all lose our looks.
It’s not that Clayton Kershaw is Mikhail Baryshnikov.
It’s that Baryshnikov was Kershaw.
Look at that image above. Look at that competitor. It’s April 18 of a lethargic Dodger season, and the fire in the Dodger legend is a red-hot 200 degrees.
One degree for each career win.
On a night where history could be made, Kershaw brought history to life, delivering a performance for which “vintage” is utterly insufficient.
Attacking the strike zone and baffling the New York Mets, Kershaw threw seven dominant shutout innings — with 81 of his 105 pitches for strikes — in a 5-0 Dodger victory, the 200th of his brilliant career.
Gentlewomen and gentlemen, Clayton Kershaw makes the 400th start of his Hall of Fame career tonight at Arizona. As you know, each start commands a feature-length film of epic stature. While we have not succeeded every time, the producers and I have poured our hearts into this 15-year-old project. We hope you have found some joy, some laughs — maybe even some tears — in coming along this journey with us.
Please join in as we reminisce about what we believe to be the most important movie series in baseball history.
Kershaw CCCXCIX: Kersho Pioneers!
Kershaw CCCXCVIII: Kershawllywood Squares
Kershaw CCCXCVII: Kershawrry, Wrong Number
Kershaw CCCXCVI: (production curtailed)
Kershaw CCCXCV: Kershawne to 5
Kershaw CCCXCIV: Kershalona
Kershaw CCCXCIII: The Kershaw Always Rings Twice
Kershaw CCCXCII: Kershowsse Pointe Blank
Kershaw CCCXCI: Kershawaii Five-0
Kershaw CCCXC: Kershawcan Gigolo
… It has been 45 years since the Dodgers made an exception to their policy of only retiring the jersey numbers of Hall of Famers, when in the throes of grief, they honored Jim Gilliam’s No. 19 after his sudden death during the 1978 World Series, nine days shy of his 50th birthday, In between, Gil Hodges became the 11th number retiree last summer to accompany his belated 2022 journey to Cooperstown. And now Fernando, whose prodigious workload early in his career forestalled him putting up the late-career numbers to make the Hall, will make it a dozen, joining Gilliam as an exception to the rule.
So many have hungered for this moment, and few would dispute its worthiness. On a practical level, the Dodgers haven’t given any player No. 34 since Valenzuela, so all that was missing was the official blessing.
At the same time, this opens a floodgate or two. However special the circumstances, no longer can the Dodgers hide from a clamor for other candidates. …
(Okay, my cheek is enveloping my tongue, but it’s true!)
But more seriously: The Dodgers have won 67 percent of their games (366-180) over the past four seasons, the equivalent of 108.5 wins every 162 games. To put that in perspective, no other team has won 67 percent of its games even in a single season since the 2001 Seattle Mariners.
Based on their offseason moves, no one (including myself), believes that the Dodgers will sustain that level of play in 2023. But how far down might they go, and what are the consequences?
Let’s start from the outside in — first the postseason, then the regular season.
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I’m not sure I ever typed “Trevor Bauer” and “Dodgers” in the same sentence, and thankfully after tonight, I never will.
The Dodgers cut ties Friday with the 31-year-old “pitcher” on the following basis, as indicated in their 4:16 p.m. PT statement.
The Dodgers organization believes that allegations of sexual assault or domestic violence should be thoroughly investigated, with due process given to the accused. From the beginning, we have fully cooperated with Major League Baseball’s investigation and strictly followed the process stipulated under MLB’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. Two extensive reviews of all the available evidence in this case — one by Commissioner Manfred and another by a neutral arbitrator — concluded that Mr. Bauer’s actions warranted the longest ever active player suspension in our sport for violations of this policy. Now that this process has been completed, and after careful consideration, we have decided that he will no longer be part of our organization.
I don’t have the slightest need nor desire to dive into the allegations of sexual assault that led to Bauer’s suspension from Major League Baseball on July 2, 2021. Bauer started flinging lawsuits around like kale chips from a hot-air balloon. (I just made that up.) There was one high-profile showdown in court, in which the judge ruled that no restraining order was needed to keep Bauer away from his accuser since they were nowhere near each other. Some in the public confused that as an exoneration of Bauer when it was anything but. Click if you want the terrible details.
“Notwithstanding [the woman’s] consent to some form of rough sex,” U.S. District Court Judge James Selna wrote, “Bauer engaged in acts while [she] was unconscious, when she was physically and legally unable to give consent.”
I wrote a pretty lengthy status report on the 2023 Dodgers over at Slayed by Voices. This one, I’m keeping behind the paywall, but I really hope you’ll check it out. You can always sign up with a no-strings-attached, seven-day free trial. And here’s a bonus for Dodger Thoughts readers: If you sign up and then let me know in the comments below, I’ll extend your free trial to 30 days.
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[Borrowed from a free post at Slayed by Voices]
Hello there. And a very pleasant half-hour program, wherever you may be.
I’ve known for some time that Vin Scully hosted a talk show in the 1970s, but I had never seen a full episode. Well, take that off the bucket list.
This half-hour edition of The Vin Scully Show, with cigar-smoking Carroll O’Connor as the special guest, was taped January 24, 1973, when Vin was 45. The 48-year-old O’Connor literally came downstairs for the interview from the studio at CBS Television City where All in the Family was taped. Not surprisingly, Vin brings out the best in him. While sitting very close to him.
In case you were in any danger of forgetting that Vin’s voice was perfection, here’s your antidote.
Like any good ballgame, there are big moments building toward a slam-bang finish.
You might think the best moment with Vin is the joke he tells in his opening monologue.
You might think the best moment with Vin is when he says to O’Connor about playing the notorious sexist racist Archie Bunker: “You are such a natural for the role.” Then Vin, realizing what he said, adds with a laugh: “And I don’t mean as a bigot.”
You might even think it’s the sketch where Vin plays a suitor for a grumbly old man’s daughter — like Archie and Gloria, but not exactly — capped by a genu-ine Old School rim shot.
But stay tuned until the very end, when Vin spins a tale about an Irish gambler in a perfect brogue. That’s a Hall of Fame moment. That’s our Vin.
As advertised, my Reddit chat on the Dodgers took place Friday. It was a lot of fun for me — I always like to hear (or see) myself talk — and we covered a lot of ground. This format brings out the best in me, since I’m better at typing than speaking extemporaneously. And I enjoyed the questions.
A few highlights: