It took the 10th and final chance — but former Colorado Rockies outfielder Larry Walker is now in Cooperstown.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced the 2020 Hall of Fame class Tuesday. By making the cut, Walker also made some history: He’s the first player from the Rockies to get in and only the second Canadian ever.
"It was a surreal moment," Walker said of getting the phone call. "I was almost in disbelief to hear them say, ‘You didn’t come up short this year.'"
Walker spent nearly 10 full seasons with the Rockies during his 17-year career in Major League Baseball. He’s a fan favorite who’s considered an all-around talent. And he's the only Rockies player to win a National League MVP award, which he did in 1997.
It's a notable career that unfolded rather unexpectedly, given Walker's sport of choice growing up was ice hockey. But at age 16, Walker traded his hockey stick for a baseball bat and eventually caught the attention of the Montreal Expos, who assigned him to a minor league team.
"I never knew really the rules of the game or much about the game, the history of the game," he said. "You grow up in Canada and you’re born into hockey. It’s in your blood and veins. So baseball was something I had to learn along the way."
Much is made of the steep learning curve Walker overcame early in his baseball career. He made his MLB debut with the Expos in 1989 and joined the Rockies in 1995. Walker went on to hit 383 home runs and also earn seven Gold Glove Awards for his defense. And his .334 batting average while with the Rockies is still the team's best.
At the same time, some discount Walker’s batting stats because of the many games he played at the high-elevation confines of Denver's Coors Field.
Even Walker himself doubted his induction this year.
But the fact that this was the slugger’s last year of eligibility appears to have worked in his favor, as it’s done for past inductees who saw a boost as the window neared closure. To get into Cooperstown, players need votes on at least 75 percent of ballots cast. In 2019, Walker got 54.6 percent. This year that shot up to 76.6 percent.
The Rockies announced the retirement of Walker’s number 33 in the upcoming season. On April 19, the team will honor him at Coors Field before a game against St. Louis Cardinals, the club he retired with back in 2005.
The only other Rockies player to have his number retired is longtime 1st baseman Todd Helton, who could potentially become the team’s second Hall of Famer. Helton got 29.2 percent of the vote on the 2020 ballot in his second year of eligibility.