Dodgers told Valenzuela he was out last winter

March 31, 1991|By Bill Plaschke | Bill Plaschke,Los Angeles Times

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- There had been relief in his voice and few regrets in his words. It had been almost eerie to watch Fernando Valenzuela, a pitcher who weathered so many storms for the Dodgers, accept his release so gently Thursday.

But the shock to Valenzuela's system apparently ran deep. Speaking with a clear head Friday morning, Valenzuela admitted that when he spoke with the media the day before, he had been drinking.

"It is not the right way, to drink when you have problems," Valenzuela said. "But after I hear the news . . . I was very surprised . . . So when I go to talk to reporters, I had to put in a few pieces of gum in my mouth."

Shortly before flying home to Los Angeles on Friday, Valenzuela offered other surprising revelations into his thoughts about the move that has changed his life:

He said the Dodgers initially told him this winter that they were not interested in re-signing him, then changed their minds several weeks later.

He said this "probably" meant the Dodgers only re-signed him so they could showcase him during their recent two-game exhibition series in Monterrey, Mexico.

"I think they already decided before this spring that I would not be on the team," Valenzuela said. "They told me after last season that I was not in the Dodger plans, then later they said, 'No, don't take that in the wrong way, we are just trying to make some decisions.'

"Then in the end, they changed their mind and decided to sign me. I'm not sure why."

Valenzuela's appearance in Mexico two weeks ago included a splendid five-inning performance against the Milwaukee Brewers. It helped fill the 29,000 seats in Estadio Monterrey during each of two days while generating much good will and publicity for the organization.

Peter O'Malley, Dodgers owner, vehemently denied that Valenzuela was only signed for the Mexican trip.

"That is just not true," O'Malley said Friday. "That Mexican trip was not in cement until well after we had offered Fernando a contract. His signing had nothing to do with that."

Officials of major league baseball said discussions concerning the trip began last August, although the deal was not announced until early this year.

O'Malley acknowledged that the Dodgers were considering not re-signing Valenzuela last fall. He said Valenzuela was brought to camp with a contract -- an exercise that cost the Dodgers $630,494 in salary - because they wanted him to finish his Dodger career on the field.

"(Executive Vice President) Fred (Claire), (Manager) Tommy (Lasorda) and I talked about this back in the fall; we were considering doing something then, but we decided to give Fernando every possible chance," O'Malley said. "I think the way it worked out was, by far, the most desirable way to do it. We gave Fernando a good-faith opportunity to win a job, and he did not.

"There is no doubt we did it the right way."

Valenzuela said he has his doubts. He said he could not help worrying about his tenuous position while struggling during four spring starts with a 1-2 record and a 7.88 earned-run average.

"Sure, that is on my mind," he said. "Everybody talks about it. You think about it."

"Don't take this the wrong way," Valenzuela said, "but when I called my wife Linda and told her the Dodgers let me go, she said, 'Finally.'"

Valenzuela said he did not blame the Dodgers for using him so much throughout his career, a factor that critics said contributed to the early end of his effectiveness.

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