Larry Walker

Larry Walker, baseball player (b at Maple Ridge, BC, Dec 1966). Larry Walker grew up playing hockey and was a goaltender for 13 years. Among his teammates was Cam Neely, who went on to a successful career in the National Hockey League with the Boston Bruins. Walker was playing baseball with the Canadian National Junior Team when scouts for the MONTREAL EXPOS discovered him. He made his Major League debut on 16 August 1989, starting in right field against the San Francisco Giants, walking three times in the game and getting his first hit against pitcher Mike LaCoss.

In 1990, his first full season with the Expos, he finished seventh in rookie-of-the-year balloting conducted among members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He hit .241 in 133 games that season. Walker's career blossomed in the 1991 season. He was the best hitter in the National League in the second half of the season, hitting .338 in 72 games with 21 doubles, 10 home runs and 41 runs batted in (RBI) after the All-Star break. He also played 39 games at first base that season. In 1992, he won the Gold Glove and Louisville Silver Slugger awards as the best offensive player in his position (right field). Walker hit .301 in 1992.

In the season that followed, Walker represented the Expos at the All-Star Game in San Diego. He obtained further honours when he was named an all-star by both the Associated Press and the Sporting News. He also finished fifth in balloting for the Major League's Most Valuable Player award. Walker's star continued to rise in 1993 as he recorded his first 20/20 season (20 home runs and 20 stolen bases). He won his second Gold Glove. He also hit the first grand slam of his career on 1 September 1993 at Cincinnati against pitcher John Roper.

In 1994, Larry Walker played first base for most of the season because of a rotator cuff injury he sustained to his right (throwing) shoulder. Though his shoulder would require surgery after the season, Walker managed to hit .322 and tied for the league lead in doubles with a total of 44. Although the 1994 season started out well for Walker and the Expos, it was later suspended because of a labour dispute.

The financially strapped Expos were unable to re-sign Walker, now a legitimate superstar, when he became a free agent before the 1995 season. He was signed by the Colorado Rockies of the National League in April 1995. Walker topped the .300 mark for the second straight year (.306) and his 31 home runs, 72 extra-base hits and .607 slugging percentage were second in the National League.

Walker's 1996 season was interrupted when he sustained a clavicle injury during a game at Denver. He had been having a good season, including a stretch where he set the National League record for consecutive extra-base hits with six. The injury caused him to miss 60 games and he wound up hitting just .276.

Larry Walker bounced back in 1997 and had the best season ever by a Canadian in Major League baseball, winning the coveted MVP award when he collected 22 of 28 first-place votes from members of the Baseball Writers Association. He also led the National League in home runs with 49, was second in batting with a .366 average and was third in RBI with 130. He came within four hits and 10 RBI of winning baseball's first Triple Crown (top player in home runs, hitting and RBI) in 60 years. He had 409 total bases, the 10th best total in baseball history and the most in the Major Leagues since Stan Musial had 429 in 1948. He became only the fifth player to have at least 40 home runs and 30 stolen bases. He also won his third Gold Glove.

In 1998, Walker became the first Canadian-born player to win a batting title in the 20th century (St. Louis' Tip O'Neill won the American Association title in 1887). Walker hit .363, including a sizzling .402 after the All-Star break. Walker also had his second-straight starting berth in the All-Star Game.

Walker signed a six-year contract extension at spring training in 1999. He won his second batting title as he hit .379, including .461 at home, believed to be a Major League record. He also led the national league in slugging percentage (.710) and on-base percentage (.458). However, he underwent season-ending knee surgery in September when he had frayed cartilage in his left knee repaired.

In 2000, Walker missed a total of 83 games as a result of elbow problems that ultimately required surgery for the second time. Still, he became the all-time Canadian hits leader with his 1448th hit, surpassing Jeff Heath (1936-49). He also surpassed Heath's RBI total of 887 with a huge home run into Coor's Field's upper deck on July 17. Walker finished the 2000 season as Canada's all-time leader in hits, home runs, RBI, doubles and runs scored.

In 2001, Larry Walker won his third batting title in four years, hitting .350 with 35 doubles, three triples, 38 homers and 123 RBI. Although plagued by injury in the last few years of his career, he still managed to maintain a competitive average. In 2004, he was traded to the St Louis Cardinals and had a strong finish to his career, amassing 383 home runs in his final season. Walker retired from professional baseball in 2005 but he continues his involvement in the sport through coaching opportunities. In 2009 he was named the assistant coach for Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic.

Larry Walker was inducted into CANADA'S SPORTS HALL OF FAME in 2007 and the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009.