This week’s column is devoted to Maple Ridge, B.C., native Larry Walker, who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday. Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.) is the only other Canadian player to be elected to the Cooperstown shrine. He was honoured in 1991.
Here are some fun facts and firsts from Walker’s major league career:
· First major league hit and first hit at a Canadian stadium: August 16, 1989. Batting sixth for the Montreal Expos behind fellow Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers Tim Raines and Tim Wallach, Walker singled to left field off San Francisco Giants right-hander Mike Lacoss to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning at Olympic Stadium for his first big league hit in his first game. He then advanced to second base on a passed ball and scored his first run when Wallace Johnson singled to right field. The Expos won the game 4-2. Walker also had three walks in that contest. “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.”
· First Canadian major league teammate: Dave Wainhouse (Toronto, Ont.) in 1991. Walker suited up alongside several Canucks over the course of his 17-year big league career, but the first was right-handed reliever Dave Wainhouse. The Toronto native made two relief appearances for the Expos in 1991.
· First major league hit off a Canadian pitcher: May 11, 1992 off Steve Wilson (Victoria, B.C.). Batting cleanup for the Expos ahead of Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Tim Wallach, Walker’s first big league hit off a Canadian pitcher was a clutch, walk-off single. With two out in the bottom of the 10th with teammates Delino DeShields and Bret Barberie on second and third and his club trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-4 at Olympic Stadium, the Maple Ridge, B.C., native faced Victoria, B.C., native Steve Wilson. Walker knocked Wilson’s first pitch to him into centre field for a single that scored both Barberie and DeShields, and the Expos won the game 6-5.
· First major league home run off a Canadian pitcher: September 2, 1997 off Jason Dickson (Miramichi, N.B.). With his Colorado Rockies in Los Angeles to play the Angels in the first year of interleague play, Walker clubbed a solo home run off Jason Dickson (Miramichi, N.B.), who was an all-star that season, in the top of the third inning in a 7-2 Rockies’ win.
· Most home runs off a Canadian pitcher in his major league career: 2 off Ryan Dempster (Gibsons, B.C.). Dempster, who was elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont., in 2019, is the only Canadian pitcher to allow more than one home run to Walker. Walker belted a three-run home run off Dempster, then with the Marlins, in the bottom of the first inning of an 8-7 Rockies’ victory on June 20, 1999. Close to two years later, on May 20, 2001, Walker hit a solo shot in the first inning off Dempster, this time at Marlins’ Pro Player Stadium, in a Rockies’ 7-2 win. Other Canadian hurlers that Walker went deep off of include Dickson, Eric Gagne (Mascouche, Que.) and Chris Reitsma (Calgary, Alta.)
· Most hits off a Canadian pitcher in the major leagues: 7 off Rheal Cormier (Cap-Pele, N.B.). Cormier, a 2012 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, actually pitched well against Walker, but he also faced the Canadian slugger more than any other Canuck. Walker was 7-for-32 (.219 batting average) against Cormier, with three of those hits being doubles. Other Canadian moundsman that Walker had more than 10 big league at bats against are Gagne (6-for-18, .333), Dempster (5-for-14, .357) and Reitsma (3-for-13, .231).
· Most home runs hit in a game at a Canadian major league stadium: 3 at Olympic Stadium on April 5, 1997. All three of Walker’s three-home run games in the big leagues came when he was with the Colorado Rockies and none of them came at Coors Field. In a return to Montreal’s Big O, Walker belted three home runs against three different Expos pitchers – Anthony Telford, Omar Daal and Dave Veres – on April 5, 1997 in a Rockies’ 15-3 win. You can watch video of the home runs below.
· Most home runs hit in a major league game in a Canadian major league stadium other than Olympic Stadium: 2 on June 14, 2005 at Rogers Centre. Because he spent his entire career playing for National League teams, Walker only played six games at the Rogers Centre. His most memorable performance at the Dome was on June 14, 2005 when he was with the St. Louis Cardinals in his final major league campaign. In that contest, Walker socked two, two-run home runs off Blue Jays right-hander Chad Gaudin in the first and fifth innings respectively. Both round-trippers came with future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols on base in front of him. Walker also added a single in the ninth inning against Blue Jays reliever Miguel Batista in the Cards’ 7-0 win. That single would be his final major league hit in a Canadian stadium.
· If I never have to argue with Walker detractors about Coors Field again, I’ll be a happy man. But in hindsight one point I should have made is that Walker spent his first six seasons playing at Olympic Stadium which was a pitcher-friendly park. One of my memories of Gary Carter while he was in St. Marys, Ont., for his Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction in 2001 was listening to him talk about how tough Olympic Stadium was to hit in and that playing there hurt his offensive numbers. So if critics are going to deride Walker’s numbers at Coors Field, they should also applaud his numbers at Olympic Stadium. In 350 games at The Big O, Walker’s slash line was .293/.373/.518, good for an .890 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
· Finally, I wanted to dedicate this column to Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Jim Fanning. I’ve been thinking about him a lot since Tuesday. It was Fanning and Expos scout Bob Rogers that spotted Walker at a national team tryout camp in Kindersley, Sask., in 1984 and signed the then raw Canadian infielder (Walker was a shortstop at the time). Walker’s signing bonus was $1,500. Fanning, who passed away in 2015, was a humble and modest man, a true gentleman and a tremendous ambassador for Canadian baseball. He would be incredibly proud of Walker.
· This week’s trivia question: Who was the last Canadian outfielder to receive a Hall of Fame vote from baseball writers before Larry Walker? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below. The first person to provide the correct answer will win a five-pack of Larry Walker baseball cards from his Expos years (Sorry, no rookie cards in the five-pack).
· The answer to last week’s trivia question (George Selkirk was the first Canadian to serve as a general manager in the major leagues. Who was the second?) was Murray Cook (Sackville, N.B.) who served as the New York Yankees general manager beginning in 1983.