Larry Walker (1966–) is a retired professional baseball player who played right field for the Montreal Expos, Colorado Rockies, and St. Louis Cardinals. In 2020 he became the first Colorado Rocky to be elected to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. After debuting in 1989 with Montreal, Walker signed with the Rockies as a free agent in 1995 and led the team to its first playoff appearance. His 1997 season was the best in Colorado history, and he remains the only Rockies player to be named Most Valuable Player in the National League. Known for his excellence in all aspects of the game, Walker won five Gold Glove awards for defense, three Silver Slugger awards for hitting, and was a five-time All-Star, with four of those nods coming during his ten years as a Rockies right fielder.
While Walker is lauded in Colorado, he also inspired a generation of baseball players in Canada, as he was just the second Canadian to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009 and coached with the Canadian national team from 2009 to 2017.
Larry Kenneth Robert Walker, Jr., was born in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada, on December 1, 1966. His first love was hockey. He grew up playing street hockey with his brother Carey, who was later drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, and his friend Cam Neely, who would go on to become an NHL Hall of Famer. Baseball was a secondary pursuit with fewer opportunities: Walker’s high school did not have a team, and British Columbia’s climate meant that area youth leagues played fewer than twenty games a year.
However, his natural talent was evident, and he was playing in a travel league for sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds when Jim Fanning, the scouting director for the Montreal Expos, offered him a contract. In 1985, at age eighteen, Walker made his professional debut, splitting his time at first and third base for the Utica Blue Sox, an independent minor league team. He moved to the outfield the following year, his strong arm proving ideal for right field.
Walker’s ascent through the Expos farm system was delayed when he suffered a major injury to his knee in the Mexican winter league in 1987, the same year he won the Tip O’Neill Award as the best baseball player in Canada. He underwent reconstructive surgery and missed the entire 1988 season. His performance upon his return in 1989 led to an August promotion to the major leagues, and in 1990 he was the Expos’ starting right fielder.
It did not take long for Walker to become a star. In 1991, his second full season, his batting average after the All-Star Break led the National League, and in 1992 he made the All-Star team and won his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. He won another Gold Glove the following year and in 1994 had his best year yet, batting .322 and leading the league in doubles. The Expos were having their best year ever, but the season ended early because of a players’ strike. The playoffs were canceled, and the Expos had to cut salaries in the offseason. Three of their best players were traded, and Walker became a free agent.
Six days after the end of the strike, Walker signed with the Colorado Rockies, then a two-year-old expansion team. His $22.5 million contract was the largest the club had signed. He cited Denver’s fan support as one of the major factors that led him to choose the Rockies as his new team. “Fifty thousand people a game,” he said of the Rockies’ then-record attendance. “That’s six ballgames in Montreal.”
Walker immediately thrived in Denver. He led what was hailed as baseball’s best outfield—dubbed the “Blake Street Bombers”—in the team’s first year in their new park, Coors Field. He played better on grass than he had on Montreal’s artificial turf, and the thin air of Coors Field also enhanced his natural slugging strength. He hit a career-high 36 home runs with 101 runs batted in and led the Rockies to their first-ever playoff appearance in just their third year of existence. Their loss to the Atlanta Braves in the National League Divisional Series ended Walker’s only postseason with the Rockies.
Manager Don Baylor moved a reluctant Walker to center field in 1996, but a crash into the wall in June landed Walker on the disabled list and limited his season to only eighty-three games.
Walker bounced back in 1997 when he had what is statistically the best season in Rockies history (as of 2022). He flirted with a .400 batting average as late as the All-Star break and finished the season with 49 home runs and more than 400 total bases—the most in a season in nearly fifty years. Back in right field, he thrived defensively, going 128 consecutive games without an error and winning his third Gold Glove. He became the first Canadian to win a Most Valuable Player award and, as of 2022, remains the only Rockies player to do so.
Recovery from a bone spur in his elbow hampered Walker’s power numbers in 1998, although he did win his first of three batting titles. After his MVP season, however, Walker never again played for a Rockies team that finished higher than fourth place in the division. His last years in Colorado were for a team desperately trying to shed the weight of albatross contracts. Walker vetoed a trade to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2002 but eventually accepted a deal that sent him to the St. Louis Cardinals in August 2004. He went to the World Series with the Cardinals that year. Walker hit well and had two home runs, but the Boston Red Sox swept the series.
Walker retired after the 2005 season. He finished his seventeen-year major league career with a .313 batting average, .400 on-base percentage, and .565 slugging percentage, with 383 home runs and 1,311 runs batted in.
Retirement and Hall of Fame
After his playing career, Walker became a coach, working with the Cardinals and the Canadian World Baseball Classic team, where he served as hitting coach for the 2011 tournament winners.
Walker became eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011, but it took time for his candidacy to gain traction. Despite his all-around excellence—analysts noted that Walker was one of the very few players in baseball history who was a true “five-tool player,” talented not only at hitting for average and hitting for power but also at running, fielding, and throwing—Walker’s career numbers were hampered by his frequent injuries and perceived as inflated by his time at hitter-friendly Coors Field. These doubts eventually faded, and the Baseball Writers Association of America elected Walker to the Hall of Fame in 2020, his final year of eligibility.
His election was the first for a Canadian position player and the first player to be honored for his achievements in Colorado. “As my only time being a free agent, I chose Colorado and now I get to put that ‘CR’ on my cap, on a plaque, on the wall to represent that organization,” Walker said. “So, it’s a proud moment for me and the fans and the management for the Rockies.”
Walker lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, with his wife, Angela. They have two daughters, and Walker has another daughter from a previous marriage.