Game changer

Walker found baseball to be his true calling

December 03, 2013
2014 Hall of Fame candidate Larry Walker. (Brad Mangin/NBHOF Library)

Larry Walker grew up with sticks, skates and pads as a hockey hopeful.

His sports destiny, however, landed him on the baseball diamond – and with a permanent place in the game’s storied history.

Walker, who played 17 big league seasons as an outfielder with the Expos, Rockies and Cardinals, is one of 36 players on the 2014 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2014 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Walker received 21.6 percent of the vote in 2013 in his third year on the BBWAA ballot.

BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 8. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2014. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 27 in Cooperstown.

Born Dec.1, 1966, in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Walker followed the path of thousands of other Canadian athletes into the junior hockey ranks. His brother, Carey, was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, and Larry had visions of a National Hockey League career like the one of Cam Neely, a future Boston Bruin who was Walker’s teammate in junior hockey.

[Scouting reports on Larry Walker]

However, Walker was relegated to duty as a third-string goalie before being cut at age 17.

“It’s a game I miss,” Walker said of hockey. “I grew up playing it.”

But Walker proved a fast learner once he switched to baseball. Though there are few high school baseball teams in Canada due to the short spring season, Walker played on regional teams and was eventually signed by the Montreal Expos in 1984 as an undrafted free agent.

From there, Walker was on the fast track to success. After finishing seventh in the 1990 National League Rookie of the Year voting, Walker harnessed his five-tool talent with a work ethic born on the frozen ponds of his home country. He made his first All-Star team in 1992 and also won his first Gold Glove Award that same year, then led the Expos to a 74-40 record in 1994 before the strike ended the season.

The next year, Walker joined the Rockies as a free agent and began nine-year stretch that saw him develop into one of the game’s most complete players.

Between 1995 and 2003, Walker won one home run title (49 in 1997), three batting titles (1998, 1999, 2001), five Gold Glove Awards in right field and the 1997 NL MVP Award. That year, in addition to his league-best 49 home runs, he posted 130 RBI, a .366 average and 33 stolen bases. His 409 total bases that year is the 18th-best total in big league history.

“He’s the most talented player I’ve ever had,” said former manager Don Baylor. “He never misses the cutoff man, he never throws to the wrong base; he has speed, power and intelligence. All you have to do is write his name down in the lineup and he’ll take care of the rest.”

He is also in rare company as a hitter. Walker is one of 19 players who have won at least three big league titles. Thirteen of those players are in the Hall of Fame.

Walker, who battled injuries for his entire career and played in more than 150 games in his career just once in 17 seasons, was traded to the Cardinals in 2004 and retired after the following season. His final numbers: a .313 career batting average, 383 home runs, 1,311 RBI, 230 stolen bases and seven Gold Glove Awards. 

“He’s better than one of the best,” said Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox during Walker’s playing days. “He is the best.” 

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG
1988   Did not play in major leagues (Injured)
1989 22 MON 20 56 47 4 8 0 0 0 4 1 1 5 13 .170 .264 .170
1990 23 MON 133 478 419 59 101 18 3 19 51 21 7 49 112 .241 .326 .434
1991 24 MON 137 539 487 59 141 30 2 16 64 14 9 42 102 .290 .349 .458
1992 25 MON 143 583 528 85 159 31 4 23 93 18 6 41 97 .301 .353 .506
1993 26 MON 138 582 490 85 130 24 5 22 86 29 7 80 76 .265 .371 .469
1994 27 MON 103 452 395 76 127 44 2 19 86 15 5 47 74 .322 .394 .587
1995 28 COL 131 562 494 96 151 31 5 36 101 16 3 49 72 .306 .381 .607
1996 29 COL 83 304 272 58 75 18 4 18 58 18 2 20 58 .276 .342 .570
1997 30 COL 153 664 568 143 208 46 4 49 130 33 8 78 90 .366 .452 .720
1998 31 COL 130 524 454 113 165 46 3 23 67 14 4 64 61 .363 .445 .630
1999 32 COL 127 513 438 108 166 26 4 37 115 11 4 57 52 .379 .458 .710
2000 33 COL 87 372 314 64 97 21 7 9 51 5 5 46 40 .309 .409 .506
2001 34 COL 142 601 497 107 174 35 3 38 123 14 5 82 103 .350 .449 .662
2002 35 COL 136 553 477 95 161 40 4 26 104 6 5 65 73 .338 .421 .602
2003 36 COL 143 564 454 86 129 25 7 16 79 7 4 98 87 .284 .422 .476
2004 37 TOT 82 316 258 51 77 16 4 17 47 6 0 49 57 .298 .424 .589
2004 37 COL 38 138 108 22 35 9 3 6 20 2 0 25 23 .324 .464 .630
2004 37 STL 44 178 150 29 42 7 1 11 27 4 0 24 34 .280 .393 .560
2005 38 STL 100 367 315 66 91 20 1 15 52 2 1 41 64 .289 .384 .502
17 Yrs 1988 8030 6907 1355 2160 471 62 383 1311 230 76 913 1231 .313 .400 .565

 

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum