Walk the hall

Maple Ridge native Larry Walker gets accepted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame

By Craig Allan, Staff Writer

In the sport of baseball, Canada has made a significant mark. St. Catherine’s, Ontario makes a claim that it invented the game (a claim disputed by Cooperstown, New York), the Montreal Expos were the first Major League Baseball (MLB) team to be located outside of the US, and the Toronto Blue Jays were the first team outside of the US to win the World Series championship. However, for all the accomplishments and contributions Canada has given to the game of baseball, there is one area where they have surprisingly lacked.

In terms of Canadian players, Canada lagged behind. This is most evident at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, where since 1939 only one Canadian had ever been elected into the hall (which recognizes the best players to ever play the game)—Ferguson Jenkins in 1991. This was the case until January 21, 2020 when Maple Ridge native Larry Walker received his call to the Hall.

Walker’s road to the Hall of Fame was not easy. Unlike his fellow 2020 nominee, Derek Jeter, who got in on his first year of eligibility one vote short of unanimous entry, Walker was entering the hall on his tenth, and last year of eligibility, getting in with 76.6 percent of the vote… just six votes above the 75 percent threshold. Walker’s journey was made tougher due to a variety of factors, including the fact that he played the majority of his career in Denver with the Colorado Rockies, who play in a stadium where the ball travels farther due to the thin air. In 2014, Walker only got 10.2 percent of the vote in his fourth year and was in danger of falling off the ballot all together. When asked about the bias towards his playing conditions in Colorado, Walker said to the MLB Network “I get the arguments, trust me, and I’m OK with them, but 76 percent of the writers didn’t agree with that, and I’m as grateful as can be.”

In the end, Walker’s numbers spoke for themselves. Five All-Star appearances, seven Gold Gloves, three Silver Slugger Awards, three batting titles, and a 1997 National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award. What may be an even bigger legacy for Walker is what he has done for baseball in Canada. The ability to play baseball in Canada was so low that Walker did not learn to play baseball until he got to the minor leagues. His play influenced others with baseball dreams to go for them, like 2006 American League MVP winner, and New Westminster native Justin Morneau, who wore number 33 with the blessing of Walker when he went to Colorado in 2014 as a tribute to him. Walker becomes the first position player from Canada to be elected to the hall.

On a personal note, Walker’s induction means a lot to me. For as much as I am a baseball fan, and a proud Canadian, I am a lifelong Montreal Expos fan. Walker was a key component of the 1994 Montreal Expos team. A team that was on pace to make the playoffs with the best record in baseball, only to have it stripped away from them due to a league wide strike between players and owners that cancelled the rest of the season and the playoffs. I had a chance to meet Walker, in a most unexpected place. In 2016, I was working at a movie theatre, ripping tickets when a man walked through my doorpost. As he walked away I realized that it was Larry Walker himself. When he came back, I coyly asked if he was Larry Walker. When he said yes. I had to contain myself and not say anything too crazy like I sleep under a picture of him (and the rest of the 1994 team so it’s not that creepy!) so I just told him how big of an Expos fan I was and that the 1994 team was one of my favourite teams ever. I could see that the “lost season” was also still a painful memory for him, and he volunteered the information that his 2004 World Series loss to the Boston Red Sox while he was with the St. Louis Cardinals was also an annoyance, considering it was his only World Series appearance. As he went off to see Secret Life of Pets, I was left so excited.

Walker’s entry to the Hall is not just an honour directed to his play. It is the culmination of a career in baseball in which his legacy will not just be what he did on the field, but what he did for Canadian baseball. Kids, who had little to no Canadian baseball role models to look up to now could look at Walker and see the possibility of playing and succeeding at the major league level. Walker now brings the number of Canadians in the Hall of Fame to two, a number that will no doubt rise due to his influence.