Larry Walker didn't have an answer. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame outfielder/first baseman was rendered speechless by one of the game's brightest young hitters.
During the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto didn't have any holes in his swing. Well, none that Walker — who averaged .313 in 17 major league seasons — could see.
"He had a lot of questions. I didn't know what to tell him," Walker, Canada's first base/hitting coach at the WBC, said of Votto in a phone interview with CBCSports.ca. "The talent was there, the ability was there and I'm just happy to see [him get rewarded]."
|Joey Votto (NL)||2010||.324||37||113||16|
|Justin Morneau (AL)||2006||.321||34||130||3|
|Larry Walker (NL)||1997||.366||49||130||33|
On Monday, Votto became only the third Canadian to win Major League Baseball's most valuable player award and first in the National League since Walker of the Colorado Rockies defeated New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza for the 1997 honour. Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau was named the American League MVP in 2006.
The 27-year-old Votto earned 31 of 32 first-place votes and 443 points from the Baseball Writers' Association of America to best St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who had prevailed the two previous years.
"I followed in the footsteps of Justin Morneau and Larry Walker and a ton of other great players, Jason Bay," Votto told reporters on a conference call from his off-season home in Sarasota, Fla.
"There's something about having guys who have achieved before you that set a bar you want to reach, and Larry was that for a lot of younger players."
In a one-on-one interview with CBCSports.ca, Walker discusses Votto's accomplishment, his work ethic and where his 1997 NL MVP award is today.
CBCSports.ca: How did you spend part of your Monday?
Larry Walker: I just got back from spending a week in Las Vegas at an event and arrived home to find out the news about Joey. You walk around, almost proud, like you've won it yourself. It's a great feeling and well-deserved, obviously. Just another checkmark on the wall for Canada. It's awesome.
And he didn't just beat some flash-in-the-pan, one-year guy. He beat what might be one of the best hitters ever to play the game once he's done. That's a pretty good feat.
CBC: What can Joey's victory do for aspiring Canadian baseball players?
LW: He's inspiring young kids, kids that for any minute of their time doubt. They see something like this happen and it puts a little glimmer in their hopes that this can be done. It's the third time it's been done. Cy Youngs [Eric Gagne, 2003], Gold Gloves, rookie of the years [Jason Bay, 2004]. These are all things being accomplished by Canadian kids.
There's inspiration everywhere and now this one affects all the young kids 12 to 18 years old that maybe I inspired or Mo [fellow Canadian Justin Morneau] inspired. And now Joey gets that air of people, so it's a big positive.
CBC: How much did you follow Joey's progress this season?
LW: I don't watch as many games as I used to, especially in the summer time when I'm busy with family and friends, and I'm out on the boat. But the newspaper does come and I only look at a newspaper's sports section for about five minutes a day during baseball season.
I go right to the boxscores to see how all the guys from Canada are doing. With Joey this year, you look at the boxscore every day and it's like, [Wow], again?!
CBC: What struck you about Joey Votto when you first met?
LW: How hard he was on himself. That can be a bad thing for some people but for him it works. He wants to get it right every time. He really spent a lot of time in the [batting] cage [at the 2009 World Baseball Classic]. He would just beat himself up and try to find out why things weren't working. Questions galore about how to do it right.
I don't know if that's him for the whole season. If it is, then whoever his hitting coach was in Cincinnati [Brook Jacoby] needs a lot of Advil and Tylenol. In the same breath, that's what keeps him motivated, probably, and keeps him pushing.
CBC: Does Joey remind you of someone you played with or against?
LW: When I see some of his opposite-field home runs [I think of] Ryan Howard [of the Philadelphia Phillies]. But he's a big, strong, humongous guy. He hits some balls to left field that look like a right-hander hit them. I saw some [Cincinnati] games this year and Joey hit some balls to left field that you'd think it was a right-handed hitting Joey Votto [who hit it], the way the ball flew 10 to 15 rows [beyond the fence]. That was pretty impressive.
CBC: How do you feel you have inspired Joey?
LW: I don't think I've had any impact. Others have said before that I was an inspiration, but I don't handle that kind of [stuff] well. I think it's all the [player's] talent, their ability, their doing, their work ethic that got them to where they got. If I was a little glimmer of hope for him, that's an honour.
CBC: With approximately 20 Canadians in the majors in 2010, it appears things were headed in the right direction, in terms of producing quality talent, even before Votto's victory, right?
LW: It's not just Canadians that are making it and they're utility players coming off the bench for a pinch hit. These are legit players that are in the class of the league and [Votto's] just another. Between Stairsie [Matt Stairs], and [Jason] Bay, [Russell] Martin, Mo [Morneau] and [Eric] Gagne, all these guys that have done what they've done, and done it in convincing fashion, it opens your eyes.
CBC: Where is your 1997 NL MVP award?
LW: It's sitting under a bunch of clothes right beside me on a chair. I can see about a quarter of it sticking out.
CBC: Is this a time when you'll take an extra look at it with a little more emotion?
LW: I probably won't look at it but I'm going to be thinking about Joey and the year he had and now how … at least for the next year, how everything is going to change. Now he's got a whole bunch of banquets to go to. He's probably going to have to go out and buy some nice suits and tuxedos and get ready for some award [ceremonies].