By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
It was Larry Walker’s first major league game and his opponents were already pitching to him like he was Babe Ruth.
At least, that’s what San Francisco Giants first baseman Will Clark told a 22-year-old Walker after he walked for a second time in his big league debut with the Montreal Expos on August 16, 1989 in front of 24,719 fans at Olympic Stadium.
“Will Clark was the Giants first baseman, and after I had walked those first two times, he came over to me and said, ‘Geez, we’re pitching you like your Babe Ruth,’” Walker told author Josh Lewin for his book, You Never Forget Your First. “I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just kind of smiled.”
While the Expos had high hopes for Walker, they certainly didn’t expect him to hit like Ruth. But the Bambino did wear No. 3 – a digit that Walker was fiercely loyal to. The Maple Ridge, B.C., native wore No. 33, swung the bat three times in the on-deck circle before walking to the plate, would schedule wake-up calls for 33 minutes after the hour and even microwaved his food in increments of 33. So it was fitting that Walker would walk three times in his first big league contest. He also added a single off of Giants starter Mike LaCoss in the seventh inning.
Most importantly for his team, Walker tallied the final run in the Expos’ three-run, eighth-inning in their 4-2, come-from-behind victory. The win snapped the Expos’ three-game losing streak and allowed them to stay within four games of the division-leading Chicago Cubs.
“I had gone from Indianapolis to Montreal with my wife the night before, and I remember Tim Wallach welcoming me into the clubhouse,” recalled Walker of his first taste of the big leagues. “Having someone come right over to me took some of the edge off, which was totally appreciated.”
Walker started in right field and batted sixth behind fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers Tim Raines and Tim Wallach in his debut.
“My family didn’t make it in, but I know they watched the highlights a bunch of times on TSN,” Walker told Lewin.
That game turned out to be his only three-walk performance with the Expos that season, and it was one of just 30 in his 17-year big league career.
“For a young man, who was admittedly nervous before the game, I thought he showed a lot of patience,” Expos manager Buck Rodgers told the Montreal Gazette after the game.
When he suited up for the Expos that night, Walker became the fifth Canadian to play for the club. Claude Raymond (St. Jean, Que.), Bill Atkinson (Chatham, Ont.), Larry Landreth (Stratford, Ont.) and Doug Frobel (Ottawa, Ont.) are the others.
“I can’t imagine a bigger thrill than this,” Walker told the Montreal Gazette after the game.