|Canadian baseball great Larry Walker gets in close for a picture with Adrian Finucci, 11, a pupil at Ashley Oaks public school, yesterday. Walker, in town for the Sports Celebrity Dinner and Auction, was signing autographs at the Thames Valley Children's Centre. (London Free Press/Mike Hensen)
It was typical Larry Walker. No fuss, no muss. No big news conference or television appearance.
It was common knowledge that the Maple Ridge, B.C., native retired from baseball's major leagues after the 2005 season. He spent 17 seasons with the Montreal Expos, Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals. He was given a standing ovation in his last at-bat during the National League championship series.
Any other superstar would have followed the process. Hint at retirement and then call a big news conference, telling everyone it was over and bask in the limelight.
"I don't think it's been officially announced," Walker said. "You're hearing it from my mouth. It's official. I'm retired. I don't know what the details are in making it official. Don't know, don't care. It just means I have to be on TV again."
Walker is the best position player Canada has produced. For several years he was the best player in the game. He earned numerous Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers and was a five-time all-star. He was the NL most valuable player in 1997.
Playing in places like Montreal and Colorado, he was never accorded the type of accolades or respect he would have gotten had he been in a major American market.
A look at his numbers, though, spells Hall of Fame. But Hall voters are sometimes fickle. No matter how good the numbers, getting to Cooperstown is difficult. He has a lifetime .313 battling average with 383 home runs and more than 1,300 runs-batted-in, despite a career punctuated by injury.
Walker was a head table guest at the 50th London Sports Celebrity Dinner and Auction last night. His baseball future consists of helping manager Ernie Whitt with Canada's entry in the World Baseball Classic in March.
After that ...
"I'm going to be doing nothing for a year or two or three," Walker said. "I haven't seen a summer for 20 years. I have a four- and six-year-old at home and I'm looking forward to doing something with them. They haven't seen dad at home in the summer. I haven't had that kind of life.
"The summers, for most of the years, were tied up with baseball. Baseball goes beyond what anybody sees. You're pretty much on lockdown. I'm looking forward to doing things I haven't done in a lot of years."
If there is one thing Walker did want during his career it was to win a World Series. He had chances. Last year the Cards were odds-on favorites before falling to Houston.
"It was a hard year with my (bad) neck. But I hit .290 and that's acceptable," he said. "I didn't win a World Series. It would have been nice.
"With 17 years in the big leagues, to pick out one moment is tough. Obviously, if we had won a World Series that would have been No. 1. The next closest is playing in one. That was an amazing experience (against the Red Sox in 2004).
"The atmosphere you play in ... you can't express it until you get that uniform on. Coming out of that dugout after the anthem is sung by some superstar and the jets flying over, crowds are going absolutely nuts, you can't even hear yourself talk. That atmosphere is pretty phenomenal."
It will take some adjusting to get back to civilian life.
"It's still January. I'm working out lightly to stay in shape, not the kind of workout you'd do for spring training. Once February comes along and pitchers and catchers report, that's when I usually reported, then I'll be in for the shock. I'll see it on television, then I'll be lost for a while."
Retired guys don't usually work out. Might there be a comeback when the body gets healthy?
"I hate it when people retire then come back all the time. I don't know if they need more applause or what they need," Walker said. "But I've announced it and it's done."
Rest assured the minute the three-year waiting period is up Walker will be named to St. Marys Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
"When I do things like this and they announce my career stats and what I've accomplished, I'm well aware of where I stand in Canadian history as far as the numbers I've put up," he said.
"Being No. 1 in most of them is never taken for granted. I'm appreciative of having had the opportunity."