Walker short on words, not friends

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:07 PM ET

ST. MARYS, Ont. -- As Larry Walker read his brief Canadian Baseball hall of fame induction speech off his iPhone, an incoming text message interrupted his next sentence.

"It's from (Boston Red Sox left fielder) Jason Bay," Canada's greatest position player deadpanned. "He wrote congratulations and have fun on your Canadian tour shaking hands and kissing babies."

If an athlete's magnitude as a national sporting icon is measured by the number of fellow big-name stars who pat him on the back, Walker has scaled the mountaintop.

Ball hall emcee and TV personality Rod Black read a stunning list of congratulatory telegrams and e-mails that included Wayne Gretzky, Patrick Roy, Mike Weir, Steve Nash and Rush frontman Geddy Lee, who apologized for not being among the 1,000 supporters in rainy St. Marys yesterday because he had started on a trip to Africa.

"I just got a tattoo on my arm -- it's pretty much stolen from Molson Canadian," Walker said. "It's a maple leaf with the words 'I am'. I'm a Canadian and I'm damn proud of it."

The 42-year-old from Maple Ridge, B.C. broke into the big leagues with the Montreal Expos 20 years ago, became a major star with the Colorado Rockies and played in the 2004 World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals. He played 17 seasons and breezed into the hall on the first ballot with fellow inductees Ernie Whitt, the former Blue Jays catcher and Team Canada manager, long-time Windsor volunteer Bernie Soulliere and the late Roy (Doc) Miller, a Chatham native who lost the 1911 National League batting title by one point to Honus Wagner.

Former pitching great Fergie Jenkins, the only Canadian in both the Canadian and National baseball halls of fame, presented the inductees with their jackets.

Walker won the 1997 National League MVP after compiling one of the best seasons in baseball history by nearly winning the first triple crown in 60 years. He still regularly communicates with fellow B.C. native and 2006 American League MVP Justin Morneau, the power-hitting first baseman for the Minnesota Twins.

"It's usually by text and whenever he goes through an 0-for-10 slump, he starts to panic and I tell him, 'Geez, that's just two games -- relax'," Walker said. "He sent me one this week and wanted to let me know how Milton Bradley got me back on the TV highlight reel again."

Bradley, a Chicago Cubs outfielder, repeated a gaffe that Walker had made famous when he caught a foul ball at Dodger Stadium on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball and handed it to a fan, thinking it was the third out of an inning.

It wasn't.

"Sebastien Napier -- I'll never forget the kid's name that I handed the ball to and then had to ask for it back," said Walker, who later brought the boy another autographed ball.

RYAN.PYETTE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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