Go to the Hockey Hall Of Fame in Toronto, and it's next to impossible to look anywhere and not see a Canadian.
But at the Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, you could walk into room after room without ever setting eye on a Canuck. That's because for decades, the great Chicago Cubs pitcher Ferguson Jenkins has been the only Canadian voted in. But last week, that all changed.
Fergie, you've finally got some company: Larry Walker.
As the first Canadian Hall of Famer ever inducted, I couldn’t be prouder and happier to welcome my friend and fellow Canadian Larry Walker to the Hall! 🇨🇦 #halloffame @Cdnmooselips33 pic.twitter.com/Ve1VuGvlgO
— Fergie Jenkins (@fergieajenkins) January 21, 2020
Over 17 years in the majors, Walker played for three teams: Montreal Expos, Colorado Rockies, and St. Louis Cardinals. But considering that he last played in 2005 — before pretty much all OWLconnected readers were born! — we can hear you asking us, Who was he? How good was he really?
We're excited to say, Really, really good.
Maybe, I'll give baseball a try
Born in Maple Ridge, B.C. in 1966, Larry Walker grew up wanting to play one sport: hockey. But at age 16, his dreams of being a hockey goalie were squashed after he was cut by teams he tried out for. Still he knew he was a strong athlete. And he had played some baseball here and there in his spare time.
Hmm... Maybe he'd give that a try?
Lots to learn
Even he couldn't have guessed how well that decision would turn out. Eventually...
You see, deciding to start pursuing baseball seriously only in his late teens put him at a huge disadvantage at first. When 19-year-old Walker first went to the training camp of the Montreal Expos in 1985, it was clear that he didn't understand how to hit big league pitching. Yes, he was strong and fast, but he swung at everything and often ended up looking silly.
At this point, he needed to make a choice: Accept that he started too late to be a pro, or go back to square one and learn the basics. He chose the second option.
Four years later, Larry Walker was smarter, craftier, and ready for his shot. And he'd never look back.
Over his six seasons in Montreal, Walker established himself as the team's best player. After signing with the Colorado Rockies in 1995, he became known as one of the whole league's best.
Baseball is a game of specialists. Some are great at hitting, but slower runners. Others can run like the wind, but aren't the strongest throwers. Larry Walker was known as a five-tool player. He could do it all.
His throws from the outfield were launched like rockets — fast and with inch-perfect accuracy. He could not only catch anything, but he could guess how a hit ball was going to land better than most. And at the plate, the guy who once looked uncomfortable was the best around — accurate and powerful.
As proof of his many skills, he won as many awards for fielding — called Gold Gloves — as he did for hitting.
Under the wire
But even with all of his achievements — five All-Star appearances, three batting champion titles, a home run title, and a NL MVP award in 1997 — Larry Walker almost didn't make it to the Hall of Fame. After a player retires, they have a ten-year period in which they can be voted in. This was the final year that Walker was eligible.
Of course, maybe the delay makes sense. Just as it took him years of catch-up to prove he could be a pro, it took a while for him make this vote, too.
In the end though, Larry Walker's big league talent won out. Congrats! Canada is proud!
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 22, 2020