Walker did Canada proud

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

ST. LOUIS -- Graffiti is popular in New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

Not so in the midwest.

So, it was surprising to see the pillars surrounding Busch Stadium covered in messages. They were all the same for the stadium which played host to its final game Wednesday night when the Houston Astros eliminated the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.

Thanks for the memories was the condensed version. Like this one: 33, we'll never forget you. Thanks for getting us in the post-season the two years you were here, Fred and Andy.

No. 33 for the Cardinals is, make that was, right-fielder Larry Walker of Maple Ridge, B.C. He tearfully announced his retirement some 40 minutes after Game 6 and his season ended.

Three days earlier he told us he was "97% sure he would retire."

A St. Louis official said, "Why leave 3% open?"

And Walker answered, "Because three is my favourite number."

Countered the Cards employee, "Well, why not make it 33% then?"

Walker laughed, but that was in Houston. He was touched as fans chanted, "One more year," urging him to come back.

Walker was missed by Blue Jays scouts as an amateur shortstop for Team Canada at the 1984 world junior baseball championship in Kindersley, Sask. At the time baseball was his sideline. He was going to play goal for the Regina Pats.

Well, the Pats cut Walker and he wasn't good enough to play goal for the Tier 2 Kelowna Rockets.

So, Walker tossed his goalie equipment in the corner and off he went to Grand Forks, B.C., for a baseball tournament.

Montreal Expos scout Bob Rogers was the only scout there and after getting approval from Jim Fanning, he was in Richmond, B.C. He met Walker and his father, also named Larry, at the Airport Inn and Walker was given a $1,500 signing bonus.

"Baseball found me, I didn't find baseball," Walker often has said. He also has often said, "The greatest compliment I could receive is to hear how some young kid kept playing baseball because of Larry Walker."

The Jays also missed out on Walker when he left the Expos as a free agent after the 1994 season, but their rationale was accurate (he'll cost too much) and wrong (he plays too hard and gets hurt too often.) Walker played 11 more seasons and won three batting titles and a MVP award with the Colorado Rockies.

His father has heard those compliments leaning over the chain-link fence at the Larry Walker Complex in Maple Ridge.

"What makes me very proud, as the father, is I'll be talking to the parent of a 12-year-old at a game, and either right off or five minutes into the conversation, he'll say, 'You're Larry Walker's father! My son idolizes your son. My son wants to grow to up be like your son, that's his goal.'

"When it happens -- and it has happened more than a few times -- it makes my heart pound. I really believe that my son is a baseball pioneer."

What's next for Walker? Well, he certainly will be headed to St. Marys, Ont., to be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.

Where else would you find the best position player Canada ever produced?

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THE NUMBERS

How Larry Walker's stats stack up among Canadian major leaguers:

- Games: 1. Larry Walker, Maple Ridge, B.C., 1,988; 2. Terry Puhl, Melville, Sask., 1,531; 3. Jack Graney, St. Thomas, Ont., 1,402; 4. Jeff Heath, Port Arthur, Ont., 1,383; 5. Matt Stairs, Fredricton, N.B., 1,299.

- Hits: 1. Walker, 2,160; 2. Heath, 1,447; 3. Puhl, 1,435; 4. Graney 1,361; 5. Bill Phillips, St. John, N.B., 1,178.

- Doubles: 1. Walker, 471; 2. Heath, 279; 3. Puhl, 226; 4. Graney, 222; 5. Stairs, 222.

- Triples: 1. Heath, 102; 2. Tip O'Neill, Woodstock, Ont., 98; 3. Graney, 92; 4. Pete Ward, Montreal, 87; 5. Phillips, 79; (Walker, 62).

- Home Runs: 1. Walker, 383; 2. Stairs, 207; 3. Heath, 194; 4. Corey Koskie, Anola, Man., 112; 5. George Selkirk, Huntsville, Ont., 108.

- RBIs: 1. Walker, 1,311; 2. Heath, 887; 3. O'Neill, 757; 4. Stairs, 700; 5. Selkirk, 576.

- Stolen Bases: 1. Walker, 230; 2. Puhl, 217; 3. Pop Smith, Digby, N.S., 169; 4. O'Neill, 161; 5, Graney, 148.

- Career Average: 1. O'Neill, .334; 2. Walker, .313; 3. Jason Bay, Trail, B.C., .295; 3. Doc Miller, Chatham, Ont., .295; 5. Heath, .293.


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