Canadian Larry Walker finally gets into the Hall of Fame and the baseball world is better for it
Forgive me for taking some space away from the Blue Jays in this forum, but the Blue Jays are Canada’s baseball team, and Canadian baseball had a monumental event happen this week.
After a long process that seemed all but dead not four years ago, Larry Walker, the pride and joy of Maple Ridge, B.C., was officially voted into the Hall of Fame. It did not come easy. Six votes was the margin that put the second Canadian into the Hall of Fame. A shadowy volleyball team-led cabal could have kept Walker out. But much like in his career, the campaign to get Walker to that higher level gained steam and got him in.
It was a long time coming. One that shouldn’t have needed the dramatics that Jan. 21 provided.
The numbers crowd was working against him in the beginning. Walker played 17 seasons at the MLB level, but his body kept him off the field often enough to keep him from reaching the benchmark totals that would have made his candidacy a shoo-in. He only made five All-Star Games. A man who was known as a Blake Street Bomber only hit 383 home runs. With the perception that followed hitters that played in the thin air of Coors Field, that number stood as sub-par. The old guard ignored the career .313 batting average and the .400 on-base percentage. He was a homer hitter who didn’t hit enough home runs. End of story.
But it wasn’t, as far as the numbers went. As a younger group of writers got to have their say, Walker finally got a longer look and then the figures worked in his favor. His .965 career OPS (on-base+slugging) percentage ranks him 11th among Hall of Famers. The All-Star Game nods faded, and more attention was paid to his seven Gold Gloves. His 72.7 career WAR was well above the average mark for a member of Cooperstown, ahead of contemporaries like Vladimir Guerrero, Iván Rodríguez, and that guy he’s joining on the stage in 2020, the guy who was one vote shy of a unanimous decision, #2, Derek Jeter.
Even if those advanced metrics weren’t enough to convince people that Walker’s career merited the ultimate recognition, there were a couple other facets that should have worked in his favor well before his final year of eligibility. First, the heavily-debated character clause. While the top-three holdover candidates for next season would all flunk by that marker, be they a xenophobic, transphobic fascist who would rather hang the writers voting for him than campaign to them (Curt Schilling), a man heavily linked to steroids who had a relationship with a 15-year-old girl (Roger Clemens) and a man even more heavily linked to steroids with a history of domestic abuse and a need to control women that bordered on psychotic (Barry Bonds), there were no such questions about Walker. A jovial presence in the clubhouse and off the field who never took life seriously, who was humble about his accomplishments in any sport, and gave repeatedly to the game that had given him so much.
It is that kind of effect that leads to the second and vital point for Walker’s inclusion; his impact on the game in his homeland. While the Blue Jays’ back-to-back titles officially ignited baseball mania in the Great White North, the fade back to mediocrity could have easily damped that enthusiasm. Instead, it was Walker’s emergence as an MVP, the first Canadian position player to claim the award, the man who could only be denied the honor of Canada’s top athlete “by a car“, that gave Canadian kids who could never get a hold of life on skates a different path to sports stardom.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal said that he was swayed on voting for Walker by a column from Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, detailing just how much Walker’s success grew the game in Canada. MLB veterans like Justin Morneau and Scott Mathieson, both British Columbia natives, testified to how much seeing Larry Walker on TV showed them that a viable baseball career was there. Not only that, Walker wanted to see other Canadians succeed. Morneau talked about how Walker would give him bats when he was playing in the minor leagues, encouraging the then-Twins prospect to pay it forward, and make sure that Canuck players had the support network that Walker never had coming through the system. That chain is still in place today, with Morneau helping Padres’ outfielder Josh Naylor with as many tips as he can offer.
When Baseball Canada lost financial funding after the sport was removed from the Olympics in 2002, it was Walker who helped a collective effort to make sure the game was still being funded at a grassroots level. He gave generously to programs in his native province, so much that Mathieson was able to play on Larry Walker Field as a kid. It is no surprise that British Columbia teams have won 14 of the last 15 Canadian Little League World Series berths. The groundwork that Walker helped lay there has been sustaining the area for a generation now.
On a personal note, and to prove that Walker’s reach wasn’t limited to the Pacific, he is a big reason I became involved in baseball. When I was an eight-year-old kid, taking swings in the massive backyard of the palatial Andrews estate on the outskirts of Truro, N.S., I wasn’t trying to be Carlos Delgado or John Olerud or Joe Carter. I was trying to be Larry Walker. I wore my puffy Rockies jacket, tossed one of my mom’s softballs in the air and looked to whack it over the giant woodpile my dad had built up behind the house, my own personal Brown Monster. I was a little too young to fully appreciate the Jays’ titles, but Walker solidified baseball as the dominant sport in my life, even as my talent proved I wouldn’t be able to play to his level. I still have the copy of All-Star Baseball 99 for the Nintendo 64 that he graces. His impact was that substantial.
Canadians don’t get a chance to hold their head high on the athletic stage very often, at least when ice or snow aren’t involved, but to see the outpouring of support for Walker on both sides of the border has given them a chance to hold their heads high. Throughout the process, Walker has been the perfect embodiment of Canuck charm, from his constant self-deprication, to his tweet of doubt hours before the call, to the SpongeBob shirt he wore for interviews after he was officially informed. In a year where baseball’s character has been repeatedly called into question, Walker’s induction affirms that there is som good still in baseball. When he finally accepts that plaque in July, it will be a proper cause for celebration, and hopefully a harbinger that the wait for another Canadian to reach that plateau will not be as long.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Andrews has been immersed in sports from a young age, since she could read Jr. Jays comics that filtered into the backwoods of Northern Nova Scotia. The Canadian has been blogging about sports since high school, writing on FOX Sports.com’s blogs , her independent Tailpipe Sports blog and Jays Journal prior to joining JFTC. The 30 year old has been with Jays From the Couch since its humble beginnings, and continues to contribute while forging a career in the sports journalism industry. She brings a discerning eye, a smoking keyboard, and a brain that made Jeopardy! briefly rethink letting Canadians onto their program. She will talk about all sports, most Nintendo games, and trans issues for way too long if you give her an opening.