COOPERSTOWN, NY - Larry Walker walked to the lectern, looking like he was in a dream.
He was wearing his Hall of Fame pin on one lapel, and a SpongeBob one on the other – a nod to a SpongeBob shirt he threw on when he got the call telling him he had gotten the votes necessary for induction (he didn’t think it was going to happen). Then he whipped out his cellphone, as if he was a fan in the crowd: "If you don’t mind," he said while taping the crowd, "I don’t want to forget this moment."
And so continues Walker’s legacy – a player as endearing as he was dominant. His video presentation included his many highlights with the Expos, Rockies and Cardinals, but it also showed the time he gave a ball away to a fan, having forgotten how many outs there were. His family, proud Canadians, either held Canadian flags or dressed up in Canadian flags. Some of the groundswell for his candidacy began with a hashtag he started, #FergieNeedsAFriend – a nod to the only other Canadian in the Hall of Fame, Ferguson Jenkins.
Walker was in his final year of candidacy when he finally got the call. He was inducted along with Derek Jeter, Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons, and pioneering union head Marvin Miller, who is responsible for the advent of arbitration and free agency. Simmons, a switch-hitting catcher, who, when he retired, led the position with 2,472 hits and 483 doubles, was an eight-time All Star and later served as the Pirates general manager.
"I’ve never considered myself a Hall of famer at anything – not a thing," Walker said. "I honestly see myself as an average guy and I’m good with average. I live my life trying to never get too high and never get too low but to stand on this stage right now and say that I’m feeling average would be a complete lie. My feet have not touched the ground all day."
Walker, who entered the Hall of Fame as a Rockie, the first such player to do so, may not feel like a Hall of Famer, but his numbers tell another story. A five-tool player who only began playing in earnest at 16, he was a five-time All Star, the 1997 National League MVP, and three-time batting champion. The rightfielder had seven gold gloves and became the first player in history to finish with at least a .310 batting average, 300 homers and 200 stolen bases.
He started his athletic life as a hockey goalie, but wasn’t good enough to make it as a pro, he said. In his early to mid-teens, his baseball life consisted of about 15 to 20 games a summer, and playing fast-pitch softball with his brothers
His talent was undeniable, though, and he was eventually scouted, and joined the Utica Blue Sox in the New York-Penn League, Class A Short Season ball. It wasn’t always seamless.
During his speech, he remembered taking off from first on a hit-and-run, passing second, but then being called back because it was a fly ball. Walker made it back to first base, all right, though his method was unorthodox.
"It turns out, getting back to first base, you do not cut behind the pitcher’s mound, through the infield, which is what I did," he said. "I already touched second once, why the heck do I have to touch it again? Needless to say, I learned the rules and eventually how to run the bases. I tell that story because I know there are kids out there that maybe don’t have the ability or the experience, but I tell them to keep fighting, because me standing here right now is proof that hard work can pay off."
It can, maybe even if you never expected it.