Now in HOF, Walker's 'hard work paid off'

September 8th, 2021

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Imagine that the plaques in the Hall of Fame Gallery speak, when the visitors are gone and the lights are dimmed. What would the new one of -- the first with the Rockies’ interlocking “CR” on the cap -- have to say?

Who will Walker’s plaque say it to?

Tracked down between a couple of his many commitments in Cooperstown on Wednesday, Walker pondered the fantasy briefly. Then he figured the bronze, imaginary Walker was as delighted and frazzled as the real one.

“First, I don’t know how you pick one -- how do you pick one out of 1 percent of every player to speak to?” Walker said with his familiar rumbling chuckle. “One percent of the greatest are hanging on that wall.

“So can I not just have a beer with each one of them along the way?”

Honored for a 17-season career, including 10 spent with the Rockies, Walker joined Yankees captain Derek Jeter and switch-hitting catcher Ted Simmons as players in what is officially the 2020 Induction Class. The late Marvin Miller, the influential head of the MLB Players Association, also was inducted.

Never one to take himself too seriously, Walker dressed in a dark gray suit, a black shirt and light tie, and offset the outfit with a SpongeBob SquarePants lapel pin -- a nod to the shirt he wore when he learned in January 2020 that he had been elected.

Walker began his speech by pulling out his cellphone to pan a crowd that was mostly in attendance for Jeter. Walker broke in with the Montreal Expos (1989-94) before joining the Rockies (1995-2004) and finishing with the Cardinals (2004-05). During his time with the Rockies, Walker won the 1997 National League Most Valuable Player Award as well as five of his seven Gold Glove Awards, but he recalled making the 1995 playoffs as a particularly fond memory.

“What an incredible way to be introduced to the fans of the Rockies,” Walker said during his speech. “I thank the Rockies fans for always showing your support, and I hope real soon, that ticker tape parade comes rolling down Blake Street.”

The wait for induction was long. At last, in his final year on the ballot, Walker surpassed the 75 percent threshold of Baseball Writers Association of America ballots (he received 76.6 percent).

That meant Walker, of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, became the second Canadian -- behind pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, elected in 1991 -- and the country’s first position player to be elected. Walker took time during his speech to acknowledge Jenkins, who was among the honored members of the Hall seated on the stage behind him.

“I am Canadian,” said Walker, who had friends in white sportscoats emblazoned with the country’s iconic maple leaf. “A couple of years ago, I fell short in the voting. I don’t do much on social media, but I did one of those hashtag things on Twitter, and it read, #FergieNeedsAFriend.”

Walker recounted the oft-told story of what occurred during his first year of professional ball, when he was at first base, took off on a hard-hit ball to the outfield and rounded second. The ball was caught and his third-base coach, Gene Glynn (who was at the ceremony), frantically sent him back to first base. Walker cut across the diamond. He made it in time -- but that’s against the rules.

That story, however, went beyond Walker merely poking fun at himself. It helped illustrate how far someone who didn’t play much baseball growing up can go if he works hard enough. Walker was a goalie, who turned to baseball when he decided the National Hockey League was not in the cards.

“We didn’t have high school baseball or any serious travel ball,” Walker said. “I played no more than 15-20 baseball games a summer until I was 16. But I did play lots of fast-pitch softball with the Maple Ridge Lanes team with my dad and my three brothers, all wearing the same uniform.

“Some of my earliest memories include my mom sitting in the stands while we all played. My mom, Mary, my dad, Larry, and my brothers, Barry, Carey and Gary -- the rhyming family.”

Walker became one of his era’s greatest baserunners. One Class A mistake didn’t stop him.

“Needless to say, I learned the rules, eventually, how to run the bases,” Walker said. “I tell that story because I know there are kids out there that maybe don't have the ability or experience. But I tell them to keep fighting, because me standing here right now is proof that hard work paid off.”

While he had some relatives with him, COVID-19 and the fallout from it kept it from being a full family affair. But he said in his remarks that he believes that reunion will happen soon.

The speech was the culmination of, well, a lot of stress.

“I went to bed at about 11 o’clock last night and I woke up this morning at 1 a.m.,” Walker said during a conference call with national and international media. “So there was a lot on my mind the whole morning, and leading up to it. I even scribbled out some things in my speech this morning, when I was just laying on the sofa, just reading it again and changing things. Four hours before my speech, and I was changing things.

“It went good -- I did better than I thought. I thought I was going to cry. Even in my practice at home in front of my kids, I cried a bit. I wanted to hold it together as best as I could, and fortunately I was able to do it.”

Not long thereafter the day was done, and Walker -- who wore 33 throughout his career and loves the number 3 -- was in the Hall as its 333rd member.

His engraved likeness in Cooperstown can drink to that.