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Fernando in Dodger Radio Booth

June 05, 2003|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

They've given away bobblehead dolls with his cherubic face smiling on them.

They've plastered his image on the outfield wall as a reminder of his successful past while playing highlights of his career on the video board during games.

But not since his release late in spring training before the 1991 season have the Dodgers been able to bring Fernando Valenzuela back to Chavez Ravine.

Until today.

Valenzuela, whose hasty departure left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Dodger fans, will be introduced at a Dodger Stadium news conference to announce his return to the club as a radio analyst for Spanish broadcasts, joining Hall of Famer Jaime Jarrin and Pepe Yniguez.

Valenzuela, 42, agreed to a three-year contract to serve as a color commentator for all home games and road games at National League West rivals and will begin his new duties Friday.

Contacted on his cellular phone Wednesday afternoon, Valenzuela was playing golf and declined to comment.

"They [the Dodgers] asked me not to talk about it and I don't want to get in trouble," Valenzuela said with a laugh. "They asked me to wait until the press conference so I want to respect that."

But while Valenzuela, the Mexican left-hander who turned every fifth day at Dodger Stadium into a Cinco de Mayo fiesta at the height of Fernandomania, was keeping mum, word of his return to the franchise he led to the 1981 World Series title had many in the organization excited.

Especially Jarrin, who was Valenzuela's right-hand man early in his career.

"Before, I was his interpreter and translator," said Jarrin, who has been broadcasting Dodger games in Spanish since 1959. "Now, he's my sidekick.

"He talked about being nervous, but if he wasn't nervous before 50,000 fans up there on the mound, I don't think he'll be nervous in front of a microphone."

Valenzuela seemingly came out of nowhere in 1981, when, after an opening-day emergency start, he threw five shutouts in his first eight starts en route to becoming the first player to win both the Cy Young and rookie-of-the-year awards in the same season.

Baffling batters with his screwball, Valenzuela was a six-time All-Star, threw a no-hitter in 1990 and went 141-116 in 10-plus seasons with the Dodgers. But he was only 32-37 with the Angels, Baltimore, Philadelphia, San Diego and St. Louis before his career ended in 1997.

Estranged from the organization since his release, he has not returned to Dodger Stadium, even though he lives in nearby Los Feliz.

Dodger Senior Vice President Derrick Hall tried for the last two years to bring Valenzuela back in the fold, and with Jarrin's help, it came to fruition.

"This is a guy that is as important to this franchise as any other player," Hall said. "He's arguably the most popular L.A. Dodger in history. He just was not ready [to return]. We've always made an effort to reach out to our Hispanic fans and ... now they'll be able to experience Fernandomania on a nightly basis."

Jarrin sensed that healing would occur with Valenzuela again a Dodger.

"There will be some because the fans will see him," Jarrin said. "They love him. And now he's back home. The prodigal son is returning."

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