Today would have been a tremendous day. It was the day the Colorado Rockies were going to retire the legendary number 33 that means so much in the Denver sports world. The number is retired over at the Pepsi Center for Patrick Roy, and it’s long past due to retire it at 20th & Blake for Larry Walker.
It seems fitting that the weekend’s festivities would end with his number retired in front of the franchise (the Colorado Rockies) that he will represent in the Hall of Fame and the team he ended his career with in the St. Louis Cardinals. Since we can’t be at Coors Field right now, we are going to go back in time and reminisce how one of the greatest to ever play the game finished his illustrious career.
For those who aren’t familiar, Walker grew up in British Columbia, Canada, with dreams of being a goaltender in the NHL. Before games were postponed, Larry Walker was supposed to live out his dream as an honorary emergency goalie for the Colorado Avalanche. While his brother Carey was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, Larry caught a Montreal Expos scout and he was signed for $1,500. Even in the minor leagues, Walker didn’t know the rules very well. He had spent most of his adolescence on the ice. He once ran back directly over the pitchers mound from third to first on a pop fly. After beating the ball to the bag, had no idea why he was called out. The only off-speed pitch he was familiar with was a “spinner.”
To say the very least, Walker figured it out. After starting in the minors in 1985, he made his debut for the Expos in 1989 and played with the club until 1994 in the infamous lockout-shortened season. That Expos team had 94 wins with Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, and Walker as a heart of the team that had a great chance of winning the World Series. While no one won that World Series, the Expos’ general manager, Kevin Malone, was ordered to cut payroll, even though the club had the second-lowest payroll in all of baseball. The rookies were traded and Walker was not offered arbitration in the offseason, therefore granting the Walker his first crack at free agency.
Walker would join the Rockies in 1995 where he would make the playoffs for the first time in his career. He’d have his most successful seasons in Denver. He is the only MVP candidate in Rockies history to win the award, earning it in 1997. He is tied with Todd Helton for the most home runs in a season in franchise history with 49. Walker ranks first in franchise history in batting average (.334), on-base percentage (.426), and slugging percentage (.618). In total, he hit 258 home runs and totaled 848 RBI and 126 stolen bases with the Rockies. Arguably the most Hall of Fame-worthy accomplishment on Walker’s resume is wearing a SpongeBob Squarepants shirt as he discussed being elected into Cooperstown.
But how did Walker end up in St. Louis? Let’s take a look.