On verge of HOF, Walker's 'butterflies are here'

September 2nd, 2021

DENVER -- spent 17 seasons in the Major Leagues. The first time he truly considered reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame was on January 21, 2020 -- the night he found out he was elected to Cooperstown.

That was some 16 years after Walker retired as a player, and in the 36-plus years between the day the Montreal Expos signed him in 1984 and the day he was elected as the first Canadian-born position player in the Hall of Fame, not once did the idea cross his mind.

“I take everything in my life as just an average guy,” Walker said in a pre-induction press conference Thursday. “I don’t recall any time in my career when I actually looked in the mirror and thought of myself as a Hall of Famer. I don’t recall one time.”

Come Wednesday in Cooperstown, Walker will officially become the first former Rockies player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, alongside Derek Jeter and Ted Simmons. Former MLB Players Association executive director Marvin Miller will also be posthumously inducted.

It took the full 10 years of eligibility on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, but Walker crossed the 75 percent threshold for election by six votes last year, and whether he considers himself one or not, he is a Hall of Famer.

Walker hit 383 home runs, stole 230 bases and posted a .965 OPS (141 OPS+) over his 17-year MLB career, which began with the Expos and ended with the Cardinals. In the 10 years he spent with the Rockies, he won five of his seven Gold Glove Awards in right field, and also became the first -- and to this day only – Rockies player to win the National League MVP Award, in 1997.

Walker won three batting titles (1998, ’99 and 2001) and produced 72.7 wins above replacement during his career per Baseball Reference -- ranked 88th in baseball history -- despite missing significant time due to injury. According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system of averaging a player’s peak-seven-year WAR with his overall career WAR, Walker ranks as the 10th-best right fielder of all time.

It took a decade for Walker to get a phone call from Cooperstown. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in the cancelation of the 2020 Hall of Fame induction ceremony, he has been waiting another year and a half to have his plaque hung in the Hall’s gallery with the greatest to ever take the field.

But Walker is just happy to be in.

“I waited 10 years,” he said with a smile. “What’s one more?”

Not the public-speaking type, Walker has said he’s had many sleepless nights thinking about what to say when he takes the podium amid the living legends of the game and tens of thousands of fans. He often woke up at 3 a.m. -- incidentally, the 333rd member of the Hall of Fame is superstitious about the number 3 -- and jotted notes on his phone based on what was going through his mind.

“Believe me,” he said. “The butterflies are here, right now. And there’s a lot of them.”

Walker said it still hasn’t completely sunk in that he’s a Hall of Famer. He’s even forgotten to write “HOF 2020” along with his signature when giving autographs. But it’s true, and the reality is, it’s historic for many reasons.

“It’s beyond a big thrill to have the maple leaf tattooed on my arm and go to the Hall of Fame,” Walker said. “To be the first Rockie … I hope it opens the door for other ones … it’s a proud moment for me and the fans and the organization.”