Canadian Hall of Fame outfielder Larry Walker awoke the morning of Jan. 9 hoping to land the big one.
But when voting results for this year's inductees to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., were announced, Walker wasn't glued to his television, computer or waiting by the phone.
"My brother [Gary] and I were fishing," Walker said on the phone from West Palm Beach, Fla., where he now lives. "I didn't know anything until about 20 minutes after the [announcement] when I got an email from my dad [Larry Sr.] saying, 'I guess it's a good thing you went out [fishing].'"
For the record, Walker scored much better that day on the water.
"We were just doing some bass fishing," said Walker, whose brother was visiting from Maple Ridge, B.C., for the first time since 2008. "You can almost throw an old shoe in the water and catch bass down here, so we got a few good ones."
The Hall of Fame result was much less satisfying with Walker receiving only 22.9 per cent of support from the Baseball Writers' Association of America in his second year of eligibility - up 13 votes from last year's 118 - but well shy of the required 75 per cent for enshrinement.
Former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin was the lone inductee in a field of 27. He was a 12-time all-star in 19 seasons and 1995 National League MVP who had 2,340 hits, a .295 batting average, .371 on-base percentage and 198 home runs.
Walker played 17 seasons, won three NL batting titles, seven Gold Gloves, the 1997 NL MVP award, had 2,160 hits, batted .313, hit 383 home runs and boasted a lifetime on-base-plus slugging percentage of .965, which is higher than 45 of the 64 outfielders in the Hall including Reggie Jackson and Dave Winfield.
During a break from fishing and golfing, a candid Walker talked to CBCSports.ca about the Hall of Fame voting, hitting in the thin air of Colorado, playing hurt, his relationship with the media and what a Hall of Famer is in his eyes.
CBCSports.ca: Who's more upset about your low vote total in the second year of your 15 years of eligibility: you or your family, friends and former teammates with Colorado and Montreal?
LW: I don't think it bothers me a lot. Why am I going to get my feathers all ruffled over something that's out of my control? Obviously, it would be an amazing honour.
Some people have pointed some things out to me that made me wonder. [Designated hitter] Edgar Martinez [only played 592 of his 2,055 career games in the field] and he's getting twice as many votes as me [36.5 per cent to Walker's 22.9 per cent]. Is Edgar Martinez twice the better player than me?
Not to pat myself on the back but I think I was as good as Edgar Martinez. (Editor's note: Walker had a career .313 batting average to Martinez's .312, 1,311 RBIs to Martinez's 1,261 and .965 on-base-plus slugging percentage to Martinez's .933).
But I'm not going to rack my brain. I'm sure there's people that are in the Hall of Fame that a lot people think shouldn't be there or some that should be there and aren't.
CBCSports.ca: The knock against you when people say Larry Walker shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame is that you played 10 of your 17 seasons at hitter-friendly Coors Field in Colorado. But a lot of times players can't control where they play, right?
LW: I was in the big leagues, man. Are you she---in me? You can't always pick where you go or what happens. You just roll with the friggin' punches. I was in the dugout trying to beat the other 25 guys in the dugout beside us. That's all I tried to do. I can't control where I'm at and the numbers that go up. Every ballpark has its quirks.
If you read something in the paper or a magazine or hear something on TV, whether it's negative or positive, people tend to want to go that way with it. If what was being printed all this time was 'Walker deserves the [Hall of Fame nod], he's going to make it,' I bet my percentage would be a lot higher. But all you hear about is Coors Field. That's all I've heard since my first game in Denver [in 1995].
CBCSports.ca: Former pitcher Jack Morris has gone 13 years and reached 66.7 per cent of the required 75 per cent of support for enshrinement this time. How confident are you that gaining election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame is just a matter of time for you?
LW: I guess the best thing I could do is look at what [one-time pitcher Bert] Blyleven did in his 14th year [of eligibility in 2011 getting 79.7 per cent of the vote]. I think he was around the same percentage as me his first year or somewhere in that neighbourhood. I don't know. (Editor's note: Early in his eligibility, Blyleven drew barely more than 14 per cent from the BBWAA).
The funny part is I didn't swing the bat very good [in] the last year [laughing] and I went up a couple of per cent.
Talk about not being able to control how the voters vote. I can't control how I'm going to play the next 13 years because I'm not going to be playing, but I'm asking for my vote to keep going up and eventually get to 75 [per cent]. I don't know.
CBCSports.ca: What do you have in your favour as far as gaining election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame?
LW: I had a good relationship with the media and I think that's a plus. [Former Boston Red Sox outfielder] Jim Rice didn't and he got in [the Hall of Fame]. A needle never went in my body to put illegal stuff in it. There are a lot of guys that have been caught and there's still some out there that haven't been caught, so I got that on my side.
And I'm Canadian. Maybe they'll [have] a soft [spot] for putting another Canadian in the Hall of Fame one day.
I've got negatives, too. Playing in Colorado, obviously people take that and focus on that. I think the one thing that eats at me is people saying I was hurt all the time. People understand how often I played hurt. I played hurt all the time, I just couldn't play injured. And when I was injured I had to get stuff fixed.
CBCSports.ca: You played 130-plus games in only 10 of 17 seasons. How much of a factor has durability played in the voting?
LW: There were days when I was hurting so bad I didn't even want to come near the ball field, and guys do that every day. Everybody does it in this game.
The one year I won a batting title [Rockies hitting coach] Clint Hurdle laughed at me. I couldn't really straighten my arm out and I just slapped a bunch of singles around. There's some pluses. I look back on some good stuff but the injuries do bother me.
Some winters it didn't matter how hard I worked out. One winter I was in the best shape of my life and I blew out an oblique [rib cage muscle] in spring training and missed the first four or five weeks [of the regular season]. I got to a point where I couldn't win as far as injuries no matter how hard I worked.
CBCSports.ca: What is a Hall of Famer to you?
LW: Yeah, Mike Bossy, Cam Neely. Wait, are you talking baseball [laughing]? Once again, I don't know what it is. I don't vote so I guess I don't know what it means. Even the MVP of '97, did I deserve it? Our team didn't win [the World Series] because everybody wants to tie winning into voting for an MVP. Everybody has a different perception about what MVP means. Is it an individual thing or team thing? I hear that debate all the time, too?
Is the guy a Hall of Famer? He never played on a World Series team. Once again, as a player, you can't control where you are, who you're playing for and how it ends up.
CBCSports.ca: You were a first-ballot Hall of Famer to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in June 2009. Would that still be more special even if you were voted to Cooperstown one day or is being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame high on your list?
LW: It's definitely high on the list. It's almost an impossible question to answer. I'm proud of everything I've done in this game as a Canadian. I'm playing an American pastime and the highest honour you can get is going into Cooperstown playing this American pastime and I'm playing it as a Canadian, if that makes any sense.
Anything I've done it all comes with the Canadian flag. That means the world to me and that's not going to change. I'm not changing my nationality. I'm always going to remain a Canadian, even though I'm living down here and this is where life has taken me, but I'm not going to change my citizenship.
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