With less than a week remaining before the 2020 Hall of Fame class is announced, Canada’s Larry Walker has a legitimate chance of getting inducted into Cooperstown.
The Maple Ridge, B.C., native had 85 per cent of the vote as of Wednesday in his last year of eligibility. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America announces its ballot results next Tuesday and Ryan Thibodaux’s voting tracker says there have been 146 ballots already publicity made available.
With Walker’s entry into the Hall looking possible, there’s no better time to look back on what has made his 17-year MLB career worthy of joining the sport’s greatest.
Here’s a look back at the top moments in his career:
Milestone home runs
The big lefty finished his career with 383 home runs and there were several memorable ones along the way.
How about his first career home run? It took him 31 games to accomplish the feat, but on April 20, 1990, as a member of the Montreal Expos, he hit one off Ron Darling to open the scoring in the second inning on the road against the New York Mets.
More Expos magic came in September 1992 when he had a pair of walk-offs. The first came on Sept. 13 against the Mets with a three-run shot in the bottom of the ninth off Anthony Young and behind 5-4. He followed that up on Sept. 25 against Heathcliff Slocumb of the Chicago Cubs with a solo homer in the bottom of the 10th for the win.
Walker’s 100th home run came off Hideo Nomo of the Dodgers in 1995 — also his first homer with the Colorado Rockies. His 200th was against Andy Ashby of the San Diego Padres in 1997 and 300th off David Williams of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001.
The last home run of his career happened on Oct. 1, 2005 with the St. Louis Cardinals when he had two homers off Ramon Ortiz of the Cincinnati Reds.
Montreal Expos’ Larry Walker is greeted by teammate Tim Wallach, left (29), after Walker’s two run home run in the 5th inning of the Expos Vs Cardinals game in St. Louis, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 1990 in St. Louis. (Mary Butkus/AP)
Coming out of the 1994-95 MLB strike, the Expos were unable to afford Walker and the right-fielder ended up hitting the open market.
He signed a four-year deal with Colorado on April 8, 1995, just days after the strike ended, and earned nearly $22.5 million in guaranteed money.
All-Star Game fun
Walker was in the middle of having the season of his life in 1997 and earned a trip to the all-star game in Cleveland.
Batting sixth and playing right field for the National League, Walker was brushed off the plate on the first pitch of his at-bat in the second inning against the Big Hurt, Randy Johnson. It prompted Walker to switch things up before the next pitch by moving to the right side of the plate and flipping his helmet around backwards. Johnson was taken aback and had to step off the mound to compose himself as Walker, trying to be serious at first, eventually grinned at the situation.
The move drew laughs from both dugouts and the crowd at Progressive Field. He switched back around to the left side and walked.
Walker became the first Canadian in either league to earn Most Valuable Player honours in 1997 after receiving 22 first-place votes while with the Rockies.
He hit 49 home runs — tops in the NL — and 130 RBIs to go along with a .366 batting average, .452 on-base percentage and .720 slugging percentage. The slugging percentage topped MLB, his OBP led the NL, earned his third Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award.
“Maybe kids will look up to me and it will push them to reach for their goals,” Walker told the Associated Press at the time.
His 409 total bases in 1997 were the most since Stan Musial in 1948. And not only was he good at Coors Field, but he hit .346 on the road with 29 homers and 62 RBIs.
Years of impressive seasons with the Rockies meant Walker was due for a pay raise.
It happened on March 4, 1999 when he inked a six-year contract extension with the club worth $75 million. The deal tied him for the sixth-highest average salary in the game.
The Cardinals, at the time with the best record in baseball, made a run for it in 2004 when they acquired Walker from the Rockies on Aug. 6, 2004, for minor leaguer Jason Burch and players to be named later.
Walker, 37 at the time, had refused a trade to the Texas Rangers a week earlier.
“We tried very hard to put him in a city where he can accomplish his dream of winning a world championship,” Colorado GM Dan O’Dowd said at the time.
It had been nine years since Walker last appeared in the MLB post-season and he wasted no time making an impact.
In Game 1 of the 2004 NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he followed up Albert Pujols’s first inning homer with a solo blast in the third with two out that landed in the right-field stands. He did it again in the seventh, this time off Giovanni Carrara for another solo shot.
The momentum carried through to the World Series when he hit a homer off Boston Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield in Game 1 in the third inning before adding two doubles.
St. Louis got swept in four games, but Walker was a dominant force at the plate, hitting .357/.438/.929 with two doubles, two homers and three RBIs. It was his first and only opportunity to play in the World Series.
Walker announced his retirement on Oct. 19, 2005 after a Game 6 loss to the Houston Astros in the NLCS at the age of 38.
His final MLB at-bat ended with a strikeout looking.
“I can’t believe I did that,” he told the Denver Post afterwards. “I just lost my focus when I stepped back to enjoy (the cheers).”