Tag Archives: Walker

Alberta’s Laura Walker beats Jennifer Jones, moves within 2 wins of Scotties title

Alberta’s Laura Walker advanced to the semifinal of the Canadian women’s curling championship with a 9-8 win over Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones in Sunday’s tiebreaker game in Calgary.

Walker faces defending champion Kerri Einarson in an afternoon semifinal with the winner taking on Ontario’s Rachel Homan for the championship in the evening.

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Jones missed an attempted double takeout in the 10th end, which left Walker an open draw to score three for the win in the tiebreaker.

Manitoba and Alberta were tied for third at 9-3 after the championship round, which required a tiebreaker game to solve.

WATCH | Walker wins tiebreaker against 6-time Scotties champ:

Laura Walker and her team from Alberta eliminated Jennifer Jones of Manitoba 9-8 Sunday in the tiebreaker match at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary. 0:52

Jones, a six-time champion at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, was chasing a record seventh title.

Einarson’s foursome out of Manitoba’s Gimli Curling Club beat Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges 7-4 on Saturday before suffering a 10-9 loss to Jones in the evening draw.

“We’re definitely just focusing on ourselves and what we need to do,” Einarson said. “We’re in control of our own destiny.”

$ 100,000 to Scotties champion

Einarson is attempting to win the first back-to-back Hearts titles since Homan in 2013-14.

Sunday’s victor earns $ 100,000 in prize money and a return trip to the 2022 Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., as Team Canada.

The runner-up earns $ 60,000 and $ 40,000 goes to the third-place team.

The winner doesn’t have a world championship, however, in which to wear the Maple Leaf.

The March 19-28 tournament in Schaffhausen, Switzerland was cancelled by the World Curling Federation because of the pandemic.

The 2020 world championship in Prince George, B.C., was called off for the same reason, so Einarson wasn’t able to represent Canada there.

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CBC | Sports News

How isolation is helping an Olympic race walker find his stride

The plane was about to lose contact with Canadian soil, en-route to Paris, France when the pilot aborted with an abrupt stop followed by a sharp left turn on the runway in Toronto. Passengers onboard were confused and many scared. Sadly, the pilots explanation over the PA didn’t help alleviate anyones’ worries.

The pilot asked that all Americans disembark because of U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest update, implementing strict travel restrictions on U.S. citizens.

Among the roughly 60 people left on the plane was Canadian Olympic speed walker Mathieu Bilodeau. He was left to choose whether or not to continue to France for a competition that hadn’t yet been cancelled.

He chose to fly; after all, he had an Olympics to prepare for.

That was Thursday, March 12. By Sunday, he was back in Canada. 

“Everything came so fast. I was in France enjoying a French baguette and the next day I was back on a plane(s) for roughly 50 hours. Then, the next day, I was working,” Bilodeau said.

Mathieu Bilodeau is training for next Olympic Games, which would be his second as a race walker. (Kelly VanderBeek for CBC Sports)

So, when did the news sink in? That was Wednesday.

“I was like, oh my god, I was in the best shape of my life,” he explained with shock in his voice.

Keep going or call it a career?

Working toward his second Olympic Games, Mathieu had a decision to make. He took two weeks off to reflect. 

“Maybe I should retire, maybe I should keep going? So, I was back and forth for about three weeks. But then, two weeks ago, I put my feelings aside and just keeping training,” Bilodeau said. “If Tokyo happens, I’ll go; if not, I’ll focus on Eugene 2022 [the IAAF world championships].”

He feels he may be better suited than many to face forced physical distancing and change.

With Canmore’s iconic peaks behind him, Mathieu Bilodeau is keeping stride as he trains. Note: no physical distancing rules were broken in the making this image, this is Bilodeau photographed in a digital multiple exposure. (Kelly VanderBeek for CBC Sports)

“I’m struggling to be honest, to juggle [work and sport],” Bilodeau said. “[But] it’s always a struggle, so this doesn’t change much to me. I already had balance, so knew how to adapt to this new reality.”

It doesn’t hurt that Bilodeau’s a mature athlete of 36 years, married, and his athletic career has seen nothing but change. With professional aspirations, he’s dabbled in skiing, swimming, running, and triathlons. 

However, it was less than two years out from Rio 2016 that he found his stride. He began race walking and set his sights on the Olympics. Not surprisingly, many people said he wouldn’t make it.

Bilodeau’s response was “I’ll show you,” and he did.

During our time together, a town normally overrun with tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, we saw more elk than we did humans. On the upside, who needs spectators when you have elk to keep you accountable? (Kelly VanderBeek for CBC Sports)

However, Rio didn’t go as hoped.

“With my [Did Not Finish result] in Rio I feel like I need to keep going,” he explained. “I still have the passion, you know. The butterflies and like you want to be the best.”

So, training has started again, in earnest. 

Training in place

Athletes are used to moving around a lot. Between competitions and training programs, the travel demands are extensive. This change of pace forced upon everyone by the physical distancing measures looks different for all of us. For Bilodeau, it has meant eight straight weeks at home, for the first-time ever. Thankfully, his wife of nearly seven years, Marie-Pier Blais, has always been his best training partner.

No cars here in Canmore, Alta., just walkers and bikers. (Kelly VanderBeek for CBC Sports)

“She’s following me, basically. She’s 100 per cent here for me, so that’s pretty good,” he said with a smile. “She’s always on the bike, following me, giving me my fuelling. Even in Vancouver and training camps, she’s there, on her bike.” 

Professionally, Mathieu is an accountant (CPA) and his wife is in human resources, both with Deloitte. “We’re pretty lucky,” Mathieu says as they work mostly from home, even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

WATCH | How Mathieu Bilodeau has adjusted to life during the pandemic:

Race walker Mathieu Bilodeau of Canmore, Alta., was on an airplane that was about to take off when the COVID-19 lockdown changed his itinerary. 6:22

In essence, not much has changed for Mathieu other than having to stay home and spend more time walking. 

“With this virus, maybe it’s a gift. I have more time now,” he says smiling. Although, he went on to describe training in Canmore, Alta., as  difficult.

Putting in the long hours of sport-specific training is still a new concept for this lover of cross-training. (Kelly VanderBeek for CBC Sports)

“Every time I look at my watch I’m like, ‘oh my god, I’m so slow, why?’ Then I load my route on my apps, and I’m like ‘ok, I was climbing pretty intense!'”  

Bilodeau says for him to get better at his sport, he needs more focus, and the fact that the games have been pushed back may benefit him in the long term.

“I’m not close to [Canadian race walking star] Evan [Dunfee] yet, but with an extra year, I think maybe we can prove that we Canadians can be the best walkers on the planet,” he said.

“I’m just trying to put all the chances on my side, and if Tokyo happens, I will have better tools and better volume in the specific way of walking.” 

Hitting his stride, Mathieu’s sights continue to be firmly set on his walk toward Tokyo. Now, it’s just a longer road than expected.

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CBC | Sports News

Canada’s Larry Walker a bundle of nerves after touring Hall of Fame

Larry Walker’s right hand was shaking ever-so-slightly as he reached to sign the space where his plaque will hang in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Reality was still sinking in, a month after his selection.

“It doesn’t seem legit. I feel like I just won a lottery ticket,” Walker said Tuesday after a tour of baseball’s shrine in Cooperstown, N.Y., to prepare for his induction in the summer. “I’m kind of trembling inside right now. Nothing seems real about it. I’m still trying to absorb it all. It hasn’t happened yet. I don’t know when it’s going to happen. Maybe it’s going to be in July. Maybe it’s going to be later today. I just don’t know, but it’s crazy to think what I just did.”

Now 53, Walker earned baseball’s highest honour in January on his 10th and final appearance on the writers’ ballot. He received 304 votes, six above the 75 per cent needed, and will be inducted July 26 along with former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, catcher Ted Simmons and former players’ association head Marvin Miller.

A native of Maple Ridge, B.C., just outside Vancouver, Walker joins pitcher Ferguson Jenkins as the only Canadian-born players elected to the Hall of Fame, and it’s a source of pride.

“To have this honour and to be from north of the border, to be the first position player, the second Canadian, I can’t find the words,” Walker said. “I’m stuttering around here.”

That’s easy to understand considering Walker’s past. His boyhood dreams were filled with skates and hockey sticks, not bats and gloves. His older brother, Carey, was a goaltender drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1977, and Larry was going to follow in his footsteps.

Walker holds a bat he used during his 1997 MVP season. (Milo Stewart, Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum via AP)

“My dream was to play hockey. That’s what I wanted to do,” Walker said. “A Canadian kid growing up playing hockey, Hall of Fame for me was the Hockey Hall of Fame. It wasn’t the Baseball Hall of Fame.”

Walker tried for two years in Junior A hockey and found little success. That was the turning point.

“I failed both years,” he said. “My last year they were going to send me to Junior B in Swift Current (Saskatchewan). I remember driving to Swift Current, saw the rink, and … decided to pack it in. Baseball found me after that.”

Introduced to the game by his dad, who played semipro ball in the 1950s for the old Vancouver Mounties of the Pacific Coast League, Walker landed in an amateur league back home. He also excelled at fast-pitch softball.

“That’s where I really, I think, learned how to hit,” he said. “Guys were throwing windmill softball from 40 feet away. The year before I signed a professional contract, that’s what I played in. I was the MVP of the men’s league at 16 years old.”

Walker signed with the Montreal Expos for $ 1,500 in 1984, as raw as a player with professional aspirations could be. First stop was in nearby Utica of the Class-A New York-Penn League and that time is forever embedded in his mind.

“I had to learn, and my learning was done not only in spring training and instructional leagues I went to, it was done in the minor leagues,” Walker said. “I remember I was really, really bad. I hit .223 with two home runs. Utica was … kind of where they sent the rejects in a way, and I was one of them for the first two years of my pro career. But it starts somewhere.”

Walker made his major league debut in August 1989 at age 22 and played 17 years in the majors with Montreal (six), Colorado (10) and St. Louis. He batted .313 with 383 homers and 1,311 RBIs and is one of only four players with a career batting average of at least .300, 300 home runs, and 200 stolen bases. The other three are Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and George Brett.

A five-tool player who sustained injuries that twice sidelined him for more than 70 games, Walker won the 1997 home run title with 49 in 1997 when he was the National League MVP, three batting championships, five Gold Gloves, and was an All-Star five times. He also registered 150 assists as a right fielder, 18th all-time at the position, according to Baseball Reference, before retiring after the 2005 season.

Touring the Hall of Fame for inductees always includes time in the basement, where players get to hold such artifacts as a bat once wielded by Babe Ruth, and upstairs a slow walk through the Plaque Gallery leaves a lasting impression.

“It’s almost like the day I got the phone call,” said Walker, whose plaque will have a Rockies cap. “You’re in awe, grateful, appreciative of everything that has happened. Today was a great day, and it just got capped off by signing the wall where my plaque’s going to go. It still doesn’t seem right, but I just did it.”

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Canada’s Larry Walker chooses Rockies over Expos cap for Hall of Fame plaque

Canada’s Larry Walker said his Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown will have a Colorado Rockies cap, not a Montreal Expos hat. 

The Maple Ridge, B.C., native spoke with Hall officials after he was elected Tuesday in his 10th and final appearance on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot.

Walker received 76.6 per cent, narrowly surpassing the 75 per cent required for induction by just six votes.

“I’m on cloud 9 right now,” Walker told CBC’s The National Tuesday night after the result was revealed.

WATCH | Walker jokes about SpongeBob outfit:

The Maple Ridge, B.C. native pokes fun at his much talked about SpongeBob jacket 0:15

The former Colorado Rockies and Montreal Expos slugger is just the second Canadian elected to the Hall. Pitcher Fergie Jenkins of Chatham, Ont., was inducted in 1991.

“It’s a hard decision, being a Canadian,” Walker said of his cap choice.

He added the key to picking the Rockies is that Colorado was “where the majority of my damage was done.”

The Hall makes the final decision after consulting with the player.

Walker batted .381 with an 1.172 OPS and 154 home runs in 597 games at Coors and .282 with 229 homers and an .873 OPS in 1,391 games elsewhere, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That left him at .313 with 383 homers and 1,311 RBIs overall.

pitcher with a career record of 20-37.

Asked whether he would be in the Hall if he hadn’t raked in the thin air, he quickly replied: “absolutely not.”

“I get it. Coors Field’s a great place to hit. There’s no backing away from that,” he said. “But I believe with that, I did it better than anybody else at that ballpark. So that had to be some consideration, I guess.”

WATCH | Walker’s journey to baseball began after end of hockey dream:

After being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Canadian great talks growing up chasing another dream 0:55

Walker, the 1997 National League MVP, is joined in this year’s induction class by New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who amassed 99.7 per cent of the vote. Jeter fell short of a unanimous ballot by just one vote in his first year of eligibility.

Walker, like Jeter, put on the cream-coloured Hall of Fame jersey. When he took the phone call Tuesday informing him of election, he was wearing a garish yellow-and-black SpongeBob SquarePants shirt. His 20-year-old daughter Canaan sent a text “Way to go, dad. You’re trending,” he recalled.

“I knew we’re going to go sit outside and hang out up front, so I just wanted something a little warmer,” he said.

The induction ceremony will be held in Cooperstown, N.Y. on July 26.

Jenkins happy for Walker

Jenkins said he didn’t expect to be hanging on to his status as the lone Canadian in Cooperstown for long.

“I was anticipating him being elected maybe five or six years ago,” Jenkins said with a laugh. “But I’m pretty happy for him. I know he’s happy, I know his family is proud of him.

“He put up some really good numbers and he’s well-deserving of the Hall of Fame.”

Jenkins had already retired before Walker made his major league debut with the Montreal Expos in 1989, but he said he followed along from afar as Walker’s career played out over 17 seasons.

The two first met in 2009 when Walker was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Marys, Ont. Jenkins, who was inducted into that Hall in 1987, spoke to Walker after his induction and the two took a photo together — which Jenkins shared Tuesday night on Twitter in a congratulatory message for his countryman.

Jenkins and Walker, despite a 24-year age gap, have similar stories when it comes to their early baseball days. Both initially dreamed of becoming hockey stars — Jenkins maintains he was “a pretty good defenceman” — and both were noticed by scouts as teenagers at a time before Canadian high school players were eligible for the MLB draft.

Jenkins said the induction ceremony is likely the moment it will all sink in for Walker, and the moment his life will change.

“The biggest thing is you’re able to put ‘HOF’ behind your name, and people recognize your career because of the fact that you’re one of the best,” he said. “That’s what Larry Walker is now — one of the best — and it’s a nice thing to get that recognition for playing your career.”

Named NL MVP in 1997

Walker hit an eye-popping .366 with a league-best 49 homers, 46 doubles and a career-high 130 runs batted in during his MVP season. His .452 on-base percentage that year, as well as his .720 slugging percentage, also topped the NL.

Walker signed with the Expos as an amateur free agent as a 17-year-old in 1984, five years before Canadians were first eligible for the MLB draft.

His shift to baseball came after Walker had been cut from a junior hockey team.

Walker made his MLB debut in 1989 and played six seasons with Montreal before signing a free-agent deal with Colorado. He capped his career with 144 games over parts of two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals from 2004 to 2005.

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Canada’s Larry Walker elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

Canada’s Larry Walker is headed to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Walker, from Maple Ridge, B.C., received 76.6 per cent of the vote by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in his 10th and final year on the ballot, narrowly surpassing the 75 per cent required for induction.

“I think I was quoted earlier saying that I didn’t think it would happen and I actually truly meant that,” Walker told MLB Network after the vote was revealed, referencing a tweet he sent out earlier in the day. “I had the numbers in my head and was prepared for no call and then the opposite happened and that call comes and all of a sudden you can’t breathe.

“The day flew by pretty quick but when that phone rang and I saw that number, yeah, the heart skips a beat.”

The former Colorado Rockies and Montreal Expos slugger is the second Canadian elected to the Hall of Fame. Pitcher Fergie Jenkins of Chatham, Ont., was inducted in 1991.

The 77-year-old Jenkins sent Walker a congratulatory message on Twitter moments after the announcement.

“As the first Canadian Hall of Famer ever inducted, I couldn’t be prouder and happier to welcome my friend and fellow Canadian Larry Walker to the Hall!” he said.

WATCH | Larry Walker gets call to Hall:

The Maple Ridge, B.C. native was elected to Cooperstown in his final year of eligibility. 1:37

Walker, a five-time all-star and the 1997 National League MVP, is joined in this year’s induction class by New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who amassed 99.7 per cent of the vote. Jeter fell short of a unanimous ballot by just one vote in his first year of eligibility.

The induction ceremony will be held in Cooperstown in July.

Walker is a career .313 hitter over 17 seasons, including 10 with Colorado.

He won the NL MVP award in 1997 with the Rockies, when he hit an eye-popping .366 with a league-best 49 homers, 46 doubles and a career-high 130 runs batted in. His .452 on-base percentage that year, as well as his .720 slugging, also topped the NL.

Walker is also a three-time NL batting champion — hitting .363 in 1998, .379 in 1999 and .350 in 2001.

WATCH | The case for Larry Walker:

Larry Walker is arguably the greatest Canadian position player in baseball history, and his numbers make the case for him to be in Cooperstown. 2:09

Walker signed with the Expos as an amateur free agent as a 17-year-old in 1984, five years before Canadians were first eligible for the MLB draft.

He made his MLB debut in 1989 and played six seasons with Montreal before signing a free-agent deal with Colorado. He capped his career with 144 games over parts of two seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals from 2004-05.

Walker had received 54.6 per cent of the votes last year in his ninth year on the ballot, up from the 34.1 per cent he received in 2018.

He is the first Rockies player to be inducted into the Hall.

Congratulatory messages poured in for Walker from various Canadian players on social media.

“Unbelievably well deserved @Cdnmooselips33 [Walker’s Twitter handle],” Atlanta Braves right-hander and Calgary native Mike Soroka tweeted. “Amazing to see it happen to such a great person as well.”

“Congrats to @Cdnmooselips33 on finally getting into the hall of fame,” said Mississauga, Ont., native Dalton Pompey on Twitter. “More than well deserved! Proud moment for any Canadian.”

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‘He’s the one guy I’m pulling for’: Hall of Famer Tim Raines hoping ex-teammate Larry Walker soon joins him

Tim Raines can speak from experience when he describes what Larry Walker might be feeling in the hours before Tuesday’s Hall of Fame induction announcement.

Raines, a former teammate of the Canadian slugger with the Montreal Expos, was in Walker’s shoes exactly three years ago.

“It’s tough to sleep the night before, it really is,” Raines said with a chuckle in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.

“Knowing that it’s his 10th year [on the ballot], that makes it more nerve-wracking, especially when you feel you should have gotten in a few years ago. And I’m pretty sure he feels that way — I feel that way for him, even if he doesn’t.”

Raines, now a special assistant to player development for the Toronto Blue Jays, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 2017.

He made it in with 86 per cent of the vote on his 10th and final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, one year after missing out on induction by just 23 votes.

WATCH | The case for Larry Walker:

Larry Walker is arguably the greatest Canadian position player in baseball history, and his numbers make the case for him to be in Cooperstown. 2:09

“It was a lot of mixed emotions,” Raines said of his induction announcement day. “After having such a good ninth year I felt there was no way I shouldn’t at least get 23 more votes the next year.

“But you’re still not sure until you get that call.”

Walker sat around 85 per cent as of Monday afternoon — well over the 75 per cent threshold needed for induction — with approximately half of all votes yet to be tabulated.

The Maple Ridge, B.C., native had fallen short by 87 votes in 2019, finishing at 54.6 per cent. He received 34.1 per cent the year before.

Raines’ ascension followed a similar pattern.

“I would say my last three years [on the ballot] made it more enjoyable because each year I gained a bit more,” he said. “At the end I got in with over 85 per cent and that made it better because I didn’t just barely get in. It wasn’t like I got 76 per cent, you know what I mean?

“That was very gratifying.”

I wouldn’t say I kept tabs on him after I left Montreal but it was hard not to notice that he was putting up the numbers.— Former Expos outfielder Tim Raines on ex-teammate Larry Walker

Walker followed his six-year Expos stint with 10 seasons in Colorado, giving some voters reason to think his career stats were inflated by hitter-friendly Coors Field.

But Raines said he saw Walker’s power begin to blossom in Montreal, where the Canadian outfielder/first baseman hit 19 homers in 1990, his official rookie season and Raines’ final year with the team.

Unexpected speed

“I had heard he was a hockey player, but his baseball skills were top notch,” Raines said. “I mean, I was surprised hearing he was Canadian — not that Canadians were bad, I just didn’t really know many Canadian players at the time — and I felt he definitely had a chance to be a great player.

“I wouldn’t say I kept tabs on him after I left [Montreal], but it was hard not to notice that he was putting up the numbers. You didn’t really have to look too far to see that.”

While Raines said he was impressed with every aspect of Walker’s game, he marvelled at the big outfielder’s unexpected speed, calling him “probably one of the best base-runners I had ever been around other than myself.”

“Looking at his size and his power and the way he drove runs in, you wouldn’t think that stealing bases would be a part of his game,” said Raines, who swiped 808 career bags himself, good for fifth place all-time in MLB history.

Walker, who hails from Maple Ridge, B.C., is in his 10th and final year on the Hall of Fame ballot. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

“You don’t see guys put up the numbers that he did — other than Hall of Famers — and also have success in stealing bases. … That guy did it all, really.”

Raines wasn’t the only former teammate to be impacted by Walker in such a short period of time.

‘He knew how to play the game’

Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, who spent just one month in the big leagues in Montreal in 1993, appearing in four games, called Walker “one of the best players” he’d ever seen.

“I wasn’t around long but I had enough time to see that,” Montoyo said. “God, he was fun to watch. Great arm, he could steal bases, good outfielder, good hitter, he was fun to watch. That’s the best way to describe it.

“He knew how to play the game. He knew when to steal a base; he knew which base to throw to. I appreciate guys like that.”

Walker was batting .322 and leading the league with 44 doubles for the first-place Expos in 1994 before a strike cancelled the rest of that season. Montoyo said a lengthy post-season run that year could have helped strengthen Walker’s Hall of Fame case.

“They could have won the whole thing in ’94 if it wasn’t for the strike, you know?” Montoyo said. “That would have been something else to give Larry a push.”

Raines and Montoyo both said they’ll be watching Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET when the vote is revealed.

Raines, who described feeling “pure elation” following his own January phone call from the Hall three years ago, wants Walker to finally experience that same joy.

“Most definitely I’ll be watching,” Raines said. “And he’s the one guy I’m really pulling for.”

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‘He deserves to be there’: Canadian baseball community wants Larry Walker in the Hall of Fame

Larry Walker’s climb toward induction into the hallowed halls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame has been a slow one.

The gatekeepers to Cooperstown, the baseball journalists who cast the votes that determine which players go in and which ones don’t, have been slow to embrace the Canadian outfielder’s career and his indelible mark on America’s game.

But at a recent banquet in Toronto, where a roster of Canadian baseball legends gathered for the Canadian National Team Awards, the verdict on Larry Walker was unanimous.

You ask people in this room and he is the greatest,” says Vancouver’s Jeff Francis, a pitcher who spent 11 years in the major leagues, including eight with the Colorado Rockies, the team Walker had his best years after starting his career with the Montreal Expos. “Of course we’re all biased and we want to see a Canadian get in, but I think the numbers speak for themselves.”

“He has all of the personal accolades you could ask for for a guy to be in the Hall of Fame. He deserves to be there,” adds former first baseman Justin Morneau, who along with Walker is one of only three Canadians to be named league MVP. Joey Votto, first baseman with the Cincinnati Reds, is the other. “Whether he is Canadian, American, Puerto Rican, he is a guy whose numbers stand up and his play stands up against anybody in the history of baseball.”

WATCH | Making the case for Larry Walker:

Larry Walker is arguably the greatest Canadian position player in baseball history, and his numbers make the case for him to be in Cooperstown. 2:09

If he is inducted, Walker, now 53, would be just the second Canadian and first position player so honoured. Pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, from Chatham, Ont., was inducted in 1991.

For the native of Maple Ridge, B.C., this year is his last chance to join the exclusive club. To this point, Walker’s candidacy since being put on the ballot in 2011 — he retired in 2005 — has been treated with relative indifference by voters, never coming close to the required 75 per cent needed for entry.

Walker batted .366 with 49 home runs in 1997, the season he was named National League MVP. (Otto Greule Jr./Allsport)

But this year could be different. According to Ryan Thibodaux, whose website tracks eligible voters, Walker is on pace for more than 85 per cent support of voters who have made their ballots public.

Baseball is game of numbers and statistics and Walker’s have always been a source of controversy.

His most successful offensive seasons were played in the thin air of Coors Field in Denver, where the ball travels further, inflating offensive statistics. During Walker’s decade-long run in Colorado he hit .384 at home, compared with only .280 on the road. But a deeper dive into Walker’s numbers is illuminating and surprising at almost every turn.

Walker is one of only 21 players in history to be a member of the 300/400/500 club, finishing his 17 seasons with a .313 career batting average, a .400 on-base percentage and .565 slugging percentage.

He also amassed a long list of personal accolades:

  • three batting titles (1998, 1999, 2001)
  • seven Gold Gloves for his defence
  • 383 home runs, including 49 in 1997
  • the 1997 National League MVP award

He could also run the bases, totalling 230 stolen bases for his career.

Walker’s defence was often as spectacular as his batting. (Getty Images)

“He was the kind of player who did everything well. We all knew he could hit, but he hit home runs, hit for average,” Francis says. “I played for a lot of the same coaches growing up and they could never say enough about his defensive ability, his base-running ability, his baseball instincts.”

His statistics would be much loftier but for the injuries that sidelined Walker for lengthy stretches during the prime of his career. From 1996-2004, Walker missed 375 games, the equivalent of more than two seasons.

No needles went in my ass, I played the game clean. It’s almost like Coors Field is my PED.– Larry Walker in 2019

Most of Walker’s career was played during an era that subsequently came to be defined by performance-enhancing drugs, something Walker has never been accused of or linked to. Walker has rarely talked about his candidacy for the Hall of Fame, but after coming up short last year with just 54.6 per cent of the ballots, his frustration was clear in an interview with a Montreal radio station.

“I played for a major-league team that happened to be in Denver,” Walker said. “If that’s a problem, and there’s going to be an issue, then get rid of the team and move it elsewhere if it’s going to be that big of an issue. No needles went in my ass, I played the game clean. It’s almost like Coors Field is my PED.”

Walker with his MVP award. (Getty Images)

That Walker is even in a position to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is improbable. In an era where most players arrive as polished products, the result of years of specialized training, Walker spent as much time growing up in Maple Ridge playing hockey, dreaming of being an NHL goaltender, as he did playing baseball.

“Hockey was my first love,” Walker told CBC in 1993. “We played maybe 20 [baseball] games a season when I was a youngster.”

There was no baseball team at his high school, and even when he did play, it was mostly fast pitch, where pitchers throw the ball underhand with top speeds around 70 mph, as opposed to the 90 mph-plus that’s typical in baseball.

Walker was never drafted, instead signing as a free agent with the Montreal Expos for a meagre $ 1,500 US bonus after attracting the attention of scouts at the 1984 World Youth Baseball Championships in Saskatchewan.

His rise through the minors was hardly meteoric as he struggled to adjust to professional baseball.

“Back home all I really saw were fastballs and what were supposed to be curveballs but didn’t do anything but really spin,” Walker told CBC. “I had to learn a lot of new pitches — the slider, the forkball, the splitter. The pitchers were just so much more advanced because they had high school and college ball. I was able to play at their level but I had to work a lot harder.”

Walker began his major-league career in 1989 with the Montreal Expos, playing six seasons there before signing in Colorado as a free agent in 1995. (Getty Images)

Walker was always easy to cheer for. It’s hard to find an unkind word written or said about him, and always maintaining the quintessential Canadian humility.

Former pitcher Jason Dickson, now president of Baseball Canada, remembers meeting Walker during the outfielder’s 1997 MVP season.

“I obviously spot him as soon as I see him because of the Canadian connection. He’s an established big-league guy and of course I’ve been watching him when he played with the Expos,” Dickson says. “And he came right over to me and we had a chance to talk. And I remember telling my dad that night that I had a chance to meet Larry Walker. We all know the numbers side but he was the person I had always hoped he would be and he was exactly that way”

“I have never been let down by Larry,” says Morneau, who wore Walker’s No. 33 in tribute when he played in Colorado in 2014-15. “When you’re around him you realize how much he cares about people, how much he looks out for his fellow Canadians. He has a big personality but his ego doesn’t match it. It’s amazing how humble he is, what he does for other people.”

Even if Walker falls short of the Hall of Fame, his impact on Canadian baseball continues to run deep. Since his retirement, Walker has appeared as a coach numerous times for Team Canada at various international competitions.

“With our young players he is still very relevant in what he says and sharing everything he knows about the game, how to play it the right way,” Dickson says. “The kids love working with him. He is easy to approach, talk about hitting, he’s seen it all, he means a lot for us.”

Above all, he has given a generation of Canadian baseball players hope that anything is possible. Maybe even the Hall of Fame.

“Maybe it will influence some younger Canadians to pick baseball over another sport,” Morneau says. “We have tremendous athletes in this country and if we can steer more towards baseball we’ll hopefully have more guys like Larry in the future.”

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