Larry Walker was one of the only five-tool baseball players Canada has ever produced. (Associated Press)
Celebrating Larry Walker
Baseball star earns spot in Canadian Sports Hall of Fame
Last Updated Fri., May, 11 2007
Canadian slugger Larry Walker says last season was the most disappointing of his baseball career and he didn’t even play a single game.
Walker retired from Major League Baseball before the start of the 2006 campaign after 17 productive, but injury-plagued, seasons.
Six months later, Walker watched from the sidelines as the St. Louis Cardinals, his former team, put the finishing touches on their 11th World Series title.
While ecstatic for his friends, the Cardinals’ victory was a touch bittersweet for a quintessential team player like Walker.
“I played the game for one thing - that was to be able to celebrate, and jump on the field and go crazy with teammates,” explained Walker.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that after winning the World Series.”
Still, even without a World Series celebration, Walker had a career most major-leaguers would be proud of and his place in the Canadian sports pantheon is secure.
“When you look at the Canadians who are idols right now Steve Nash, and Mike Weir and Wayne Gretzky Walker is right in that category,” said Tom Valcke, president of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
In Canadian baseball terms, only legendary Chicago Cubs pitcher Fergie Jenkins is consider ahead of Walker. And Jenkins is in not just the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, but the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, N.Y.
Walker was a naturally gifted athlete, a menace with the bat, a constant threat on the base-paths and one of smartest outfielders the game has ever seen.
“He was one of the rare five-tool guys Canada has ever produced,” said Valcke, who says Canada is known for its home-run hitters and strong-armed pitchers.
“He knew the game so well.
“When you couple physical tools with instincts like [Walker’s], you have a perennial all-star on your hands.”
The top Canadian in virtually every offensive category, Walker’s trophy case includes a National League MVP award, seven Gold Gloves, three Silver Slugger awards, an unprecedented nine Tip O'Neill Awards as Canadian baseball player of the year, and a Lou Marsh award as Canada’s top athlete of the year.
And earlier this week, the native of Maple Ridge, B.C., was named to the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
“There’s no question he’s the greatest Canadian ever to put a bat in his hands,” said Valcke.
Walker may be a lock for the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, but a spot in Cooperstown won’t be so easy, argues Valcke.
There’s no doubt Walker’s numbers merit consideration. His career batting average of .312 is just shy of Hall-of-Famer Hank Greenberg’s and a touch better than icon Jackie Robinson’s.
Walker’s gaudy .400 career on-base percentage is better than the legendary Joe DiMaggio’s.
Walker’s 383 homers put him 51st on the all-time list, ahead of Carlton Fisk and Jim Rice. Fisk has a plaque. Rice is on the cusp of Hall of Fame induction.
Walkers's 1997 MVP campaign is considered among the greatest ever in baseball history.
As Valcke sees it, the biggest knock against Walker is that he failed to meet several key career benchmarks needed to assure him a spot in Cooperstown. Walker’s 2,160 hits are well short of the 3,000-hit gold standard. He also failed to reach the 500-homer plateau.
In Walker's defence, the numbers would have been even better if injuries hadn’t robbed him of more than 700 games. Walker never played an entire 162-game season.
Anther strike against Walker’s bid for the Hall of Fame is that he played most of his career in baseball hinterlands Montreal and Colorado and baseball’s voting writers, many of whom didn’t see walker play regularly, may not have a true appreciation of how good he was.
“I think Larry will make a really good run at it. I think he deserves to get in, but he may fall short,” said Valcke.
Walker has kept a low profile since retiring from baseball in 2006, instead focusing his time on his three daughters and wife.
He says he’s interested in the possibility of returning to the game in a full-time capacity, but it won’t happen any time soon
“When I retired, I said it would be two, three or four years before I really got back into it,” said Walker, who makes his home in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“I wanted to see what home life is like, spend time with my kids. I wanted to be a husband and a dad for a little bit.”
Walker worked with Canadian hitters during last year’s World Baseball Classic Justin Morneau gave Walker credit for his MVP season and Valcke is convinced that, when he’s ready, he’ll make a great major-league coach.
“I think Walker will be a very wanted commodity in the coaching ranks” Valcke said.
“He’s got experience and a great foundation of knowledge, and most importantly he can relate to other people,” he explained.
“Remember that geeky professor you had in school – you knew he was smart as a whip but you couldn’t relate to him? Walker can get to people”
The Cardinals think so too. He served as special hitting instructor during the team’s spring training last season. He’s working on a part-time basis with the team’s hitters this year as well.
St. Louis’s brain trust thought so much of Walker’s influence that they decided he deserved a token of their appreciation
“I’m getting a World Series ring,” said Walker during a conference call last Wednesday. “I’m probably going to pick it up tomorrow.”
Born: Dec. 1, 1966
in Maple Ridge, B.C.
Played for: Montreal Expos, Colrado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals
Games played: 1988 over 17 seasons
Batting Average: .313
Home runs: 383
Runs Batted in: 1311
- Won the Lou Marsh Trophy in 1998
- Won named to the NL all-star team five times
- Won six National League Gold Glove awards
- Won the Tip O'Neill Award nine times
- Won the National League MVP award in 1997
- Bossy, Flutie, Walker entering Sports Hall of Fames
- May 8, 2007
- Major League Canucks
- April, 6 2007
- Larry Walker retires
- Oct. 20, 2005
- CBC Archives: Waker Makes baseball histoy