Larry Walker, Oh, Canada


By now Larry Walker has got to be thinking that Ferguson Jenkins is lonely as the only Canadian in the Hall of Fame. If Walker is elected, does that mean the hosts will play Oh, Canada, as well as the Star Spangled Banner at the induction ceremonies in Cooperstown like they do at National Hockey League games?

In reviewing the list of candidates on the ballot that the Baseball Writers Association of America will vote for by Saturday for the class of 2012, it’s intriguing to match up players’ lifetime statistics. In some ways, Walker is a slightly more recent version of Don Mattingly, with the better stats in his favor where Mattingly comes up slightly short.

Just about everything Mattingly accomplished, Walker either equalled or did a little bit more of, including years played, home runs, average, and runs driven in. One major difference was that Mattingly played his entire career in New York while Walker spent all but two of his 17 years in the majors in out-of-the-way outposts Montreal and Colorado.

Walker was born in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, making him the rare Canadian star in the majors. Jenkins, the fastball pitcher for the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, among others, has been a member of the Hall of Fame since 1991, and he is from Chatham, Ontario.

For much of his career Walker was probably underpublicized. He finished his play with the Expos, Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals with a .313 lifetime average, 383 homers and 1,311 RBIs. The lefty swinging Walker won three National League batting titles, hitting .363 in 1998, .379 in 1999, and .350 in 2001. On two other occasions he was the runnerup, once behind Tony Gwynn, once behind Barry Bonds.

Walker put together five 100-RBI seasons and even led the league in homers once, with 49 in 1997. He was a five-time All Star, seven-time Gold Glove outfielder, and a three-time Silver Slugger award winner. He was the National League MVP in 1997. That year Walker batted .366 with his 49 homers, 130 RBIs, and 33 stolen bases. He is the only player to have more than 25 stolen bases and a slugging percentage higher than .700 in one year (.720). His lifetime slugging percentage is .565 and he collected 2,160 hits. Also like Mattingly, late-in-career injuries slowed Walker down and reduced his final seasons’ production leading up to retirement in 2005.

Walker’s 1997 was so overwhelming that he was selected as Canada’s athlete of the year–in any sport, winning the prestigious Lou Marsh Trophy in 1998–and he has since been inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. The Marsh Trophy has been presented since the 1930s. Hockey hero Wayne Gretzy has been the most frequent recipient, winning four times.

The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame instituted the Tip O’Neill Award in 1984 to recognize the Canadian player who excels in the sport, is a team contributor, and advances ideals of the game. Walker has won that award nine times. More recent winners include the Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto and the Minnesota Twins’ Justin Morneau twice apiece.

Walker’s first appearance on the Cooperstown ballot was last year and he received just over 20 percent of the vote, with 75 percent being required for election in any given year. His career is worth far more respect than that.

Be sure to check out Lew’s other Hall of Fame profiles.