This week the baseball world was treated to the surprising news that Larry Walker had met the 75 percent threshold to be elected to enshrinement in Cooperstown. It took the full ten years on the ballot, but in his last year, Walker pulled off the unexpected feat, earning 76.6 percent of the vote.
Over the course of his 18 seasons in Major League Baseball, Walker spent most of his years in Colorado, where he played 10 seasons in his prime in the Mile High city. He likely will don a Rockies’ cap, the first-ever Rockies player to earn status in the Hall of Fame.
Walker also represents one of the elite baseball players from north of the border, hailing from Maple Ridge, British Columbia. The Vancouver suburb is hardly a bastion of baseball, and unsurprisingly, a young Larry Walker envisioned himself a starting goaltender for an NHL team; in fact, Walker’s secondary school in B.C. did not even offer baseball as an extracurricular activity, meaning he got a late-jump against strong competition.
In Walker’s formative years during the 1970s and early 1980s, baseball was hardly a blip on most Canadians radar, particularly in Western Canada. Despite Fergie Jenkins being in his prime, the game’s popularity was limited north of the border. Not helping matters much was that the nearest Canadian team played half-a-world away in Montreal.
Among other honors, including being elected to the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, and being inducted onto Canada’s Walk of Fame, Jenkins earned election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991 with 75.4 percent of the vote. Getting in by the skin-of-their-teeth seems to be a Canadian phenomenon!
As far as a cultural influence, Walker served as a pioneer for the next generation of Canadian baseball fans, who were also inspired by the coincidence that Walker ended up making his MLB debut with the Montreal Expos. Though Canadians were not eligible to enter the MLB draft back in the 1980s, he garnered a spring training invite.
Though his first foray did did not go exactly as planned (with the limited reps showing rearing its ugly head, compared to his peers), Walker worked hard to achieve his potential. Sports Illustrated penned an excellent profile on the ‘accidental’ nature of Walker as a successful baseball player.
During his first experience against professional pitching, it was clear that most (or all) of Walkers shots at the plate came against beer-league ballers, and players considerably less talented than those trying out for a Major League club.
Despite the initial challenges, Walker made major strides in 1986, his second year of professional ball. He played with two Class-A level clubs that year, the Burlington Expos and West Palm Beach Expos (managed by future Expos skipper, Felipe Alou, who say potential in a talented, but raw kid).
Posting a near-.400 on base percentage through the minors, the Expos called Walker up in 1989, where he went largely unheralded in 56 plate appearances. The following year he managed to finish seventh in Rookie of the Year voting (David Justice won the award), but it was the following season that served as the real break-out for Walker.
Baseball America ranked Walker their 42nd ranked prospect entering the 1990 season, and Montreal made him their everyday starting right fielder. By 1992, Walker had started to reach his potential. That season, Walker managed a .301/.353/.506 slash line, and he finished with an OPS 41 percent higher than the league-average hitter. He struck out only 97 times in 583 plate appearances — not bad for a guy who also hit 27 home runs, despite being based at home in pitcher-friendly Olympic Stadium.
Walker remained with Montreal until the 1994 strike, which was the beginning-of-the-end for the entire Montreal franchise. Montreal was en route to one of their best seasons ever before the strike, and that August would be Walker’s last playing for a Canadian team.
Walker signed a four-year contract with the Rockies beginning with the strike-shortened 1995 season. His tenure in Colorado ended up being his longest, and he spent 10 years in Denver before the Rockies traded him to the Cardinals in 2004.
All-told, Walker ended up hitting 258 of his career 383 home runs in a Rockies uniform, and he ended up as the second-most valuable player in Colorado franchise history by bWAR, with 48.3 wins in a Rockies uni (second only to career Rockie Todd Helton’s 61.2).
Walker’s well-deserved Hall case is good for the game, and will generate electricity for the Rockies, as they will undoubtedly celebrate the achievement this season. It recognizes a franchise player for a team without any previous Hall of Famers, and will be a nice boost in a Canadian market that had little to cheer in 2019.