Humble Larry Walker Worries About Hall Of Fame Induction Speech
Larry Walker never thought of himself as a Hall of Famer.
“I’m just an average guy,” he told reporters in a pre-Induction Zoom call Thursday. “I didn’t put myself on a pedestal. My favorite years were the years we made it to the playoffs.”
When he’s inducted Sept. 8, Walker will become the first Canadian position player to reach Cooperstown and the first to represent the Colorado Rockies.
“To be able to join (pitcher) Fergie Jenkins and with (fellow Canadian) Joey Votto coming after he retires, it’s beyond a big thrill to have the Maple Leaf tattooed on my arm when I’m sworn in,” he said.
Walker, elected in his 10th and final season on the writers’ ballot, got an enormous lift from Coors Field, the hitter-friendly park where the Rockies play.
“I chose Colorado because the snow-capped mountains and fresh mountain air reminded me of where I grew up,” said Walker, a native of British Columbia. “But I realize that playing so many games in Coors created a little bit of a black eye.”
Walker won three National League batting titles and an MVP award during his tenure with the Rockies. He also had a .381 career batting average at Coors Field – 100 points higher than his mark in all other parks.
Originally with the Montreal Expos, Walker came to Colorado as a free agent in 1995, the same year Coors Field opened. It was also the first time the team reached the playoffs – a goal that eluded Walker in Montreal.
“The Expos years were the time I learned everything,” said the former softball star. “I came into baseball a little raw. Without the Montreal Expos, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
A survivor of a devastating knee injury that threatened to end his career before he reached the majors, Walker is more nervous now that he ever was on the diamond.
“I keep practicing my speech,” he admitted Thursday. “I’m trying to keep it short and simple, to show how grateful I am for this opportunity.” No one helped with the speech, he said.
“I had restless nights where I’d wake up at 3 in the morning to jot down what was going through my head. I keep practicing but I believe I have the final version now. “There are nights I don’t even go to sleep. The butterflies are here and right now there are a lot of them.”
Walker was elected in December 2019 with just over the required 75 per cent of the vote. “I didn’t pay too much attention the first few years,” said the former outfielder, who needed the maximum 10 years on the ballot to win election.
“I’m not a social media guy though I do have a Twitter account. It was fun to see my vote totals going up the last three years, though it was a little nerve-wracking too.”
Walker said his life hasn’t changed since his election swelled the Hall of Fame’s membership to 333.
“It’s weird to hear somebody say something about me on TV and have the words ‘Hall of Famer’ come before my name,” said the former outfielder, who also played for the St. Louis Cardinals.
“And one time a kid asked for my autograph, which I signed, and he gave it back to me and asked me to add ‘HoF 2020′ to it.”
As a kid who hoped to be a hockey player, Walker didn’t care that his high school had no baseball team. But he played fast-pitch softball with his father and three brothers in addition to hooking on with some amateur teams. He showed enough that the Expos offered him $1,500.
“I didn’t play a lot of baseball,” he said. “Baseball wasn’t a big thing in British Columbia and games were minimal. As a result, I was a little behind everyone else when I signed. I had to learn from watching others and learning from others.”
Walker learned well, eventually winning five Gold Gloves and winning raves for his rocket-powered throwing arm from right field.
“I was having fun playing baseball and didn’t even consider myself a future major-leaguer,” he recalled. “Life in the minor leagues is not too rewarding. You do your best to survive. I stayed in a house with five other guys and had a basement apartment. Water dripped on my bed.”
An All-Star for the first time in 1992, Walker shared a clubhouse with Tony Fernandez, still upset that Walker had thrown out at first base on a potential base-hit.
“That was a little nerve-wracking,” he said. “It was a nervous time for me. I tried not to say too much, just to take it all in and watch.”
Walker later decoyed Eddie Murray, now a fellow member of the Hall of Fame, by pretending he would catch a drive that eventually fell for a hit. That game, in Montreal, lasted 22 innings as a result.
The soft-spoken former slugger isn’t sure what comes after Cooperstown. But don’t expect him to follow the path taken by former Colorado teammates Walt Weiss and Dante Bichette, who became coaches.
“I don’t think I’m very good at that,” he suggested. “There’s too much talk sometimes. The art of hitting is tough enough. Hitting is more mental than physical anyway.”
Walker will be enshrined at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown along with Derek Jeter, Ted Simmons, and the late Marvin Miller. All were members of the Class of 2020 whose inductions were delayed by the pandemic. No one was chosen for 2021.