Larry Walker Sr. is one proud dad.
On Tuesday at 3 p.m., the son who bears his name was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Leading up to the announcement however, there was plenty of doubt as to whether Maple Ridge’s Larry Walker Jr. was going to receive the 75 per cent of the Baseball Writers of America Association votes he would need to slide into home in his tenth and final year of eligibility.
That morning, in a classic exercise of reverse psychology, Walker Jr. and Sr. both said they were not expecting the former to get quite enough votes.
“Although I believe I’m going to come up a little short today, I still wanna thank all you that have been pulling for me and showing your support,” the Major League Baseball veteran tweeted, “I’m grateful for all of you! It’s been fun leading up to today reading everyone’s thoughts. Cheers.”
His father was also skeptical.
“I’m thinking he’s not going to make it because I read a few reports out of ESPN that say he’s probably going to be short.”
It turns out the pair were mistaken about Jr.’s chances.
When looking at the ball player’s accomplishments, it is clear the voters made a good choice.
Walker Jr., who played for the Montreal Expos, Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals over a 17-year MLB career, earned five all-star appearances, and won seven Golden Gloves, three batting titles, as well as a National League MVP award in 1997.
Despite the accolades, a history of injuries and his home field in Denver were held against him in past voting years.
Coors Field, with its high elevation and roomy outfield, is lauded as a hitters’ paradise. Without question, it has helped many a Rockies batter pad their statistics. According to ESPN’s MLB Park Factors, 1,266 home runs were hit at Denver stadium in 2019. That is over 200 more than the next highest park.
But a telling stat that aided Walker Jr.’s stock is his WAR, or wins-over-replacement. The stat is used to determine the additional amount of wins a player’s team has accumulated above the expected number of victories if they were substituted with a replacement-level player.
For Walker Jr., his career WAR of 68.7 on Fangraphs ranks him as 86th of all time.
Shortly after learning of his induction, Walker Jr. discussed his mindset leading up to telephone call from the hall.
“I didn’t think it was happening and I truly meant that,” he said in an interview on MLB Network, “I had the numbers in my head and was prepared for no call and then the opposite happens and that call comes and all of a sudden you can’t breathe … when the phone rang and I saw that number, the heart skips a beat.”
His father was no less delighted.
“I’m very, very excited,” Walker Sr. said from his home in Mission. “I’m speechless and I’ve got butterflies.
“I’ve got tears in my eyes,” he continued. “And I’m very happy. Very happy for him as well as our whole family and the people of Canada.”
Walker Jr. will join Chatham, Ontario’s Fergie Jenkins as only the second Canadian inducted into the hall.
“He’s been on the ballot for 10 years and a lot of people don’t even get on it,” Walker Sr. said. “We’re pretty happy with that and this is just a feather in the cap.”
Taking it back a few decades, the proud father said seeing his son enshrined in the hall was never a consideration when Walker Jr. was growing up.
“I never even gave a thought to him playing Major League Baseball,” Walker Sr. said. “We thought about him playing NHL.
His son played both sports well, but Walker Sr. said baseball came naturally to Jr.
“The ability was there. That was a comment he got after his first year as a pro.
“The Expos wanted to let him go because his batting average was low, but they had a hitting coach who said, ‘No, I see some potential in his swing. I see something in it. He’s got the ability, he’s just got to learn the game.’
“I thought that was funny because I’d taught him everything I knew [about baseball] and he still had to learn the game,” said Walker Sr.
In a long-established tradition of ribbing his son, Walker Sr. told an old story of a base-running mix-up when Jr. was playing minor league ball with a team from Utica, N.Y.
“So he was on first base and he had the steal sign – hit and run, actually – so he’s going to second and the batter hits a fly ball deep
“Larry hits second base, rounds it and heads to third and then picks up where the ball was and he sees it’s being caught, so … ” Walker Sr. makes a chopping motion with his hand and a gushing wind noise … “Right across the middle of the infield back to first base.
Walker Jr. beat the throw, but was called out because he did not touch second base on the way back to first.
He argued with his third base coach, Gene Glynn, who explained the missed base.
“‘I already touched second base, why do I have to touch it again?’” Walker Sr. recounts.
While the rules of the game had to be learned on the fly, the talent for baseball might have been passed along through the genes.
Walker Sr. signed a minor professional contract with the Vancouver Mounties in the mid-50s and played half a season with Yakima of the Northwest League.
“Played there the last half of the season and won the championship,” he said, “I got a ring for it. But the next year, they traded me to Philadelphia, who wanted me to go to North Carolina, [which was a] long way from home when you’re 16 or 17.
“It wasn’t for me. I got homesick very badly and I said, ‘That’s it.’”
That decision might be the reason Canada has its second baseball hall-of-famer.
“The upside of that – which I tell everybody is – yeah, I quit and I didn’t make it.
“I couldn’t do it. But on the other hand, if I hadn’t have come back, Larry may never have been born.”