There was a moment during the 1997 Major League All-Star Game that took many in Maple Ridge back a few years.

Hometown boy Larry Walker, now an established big-league star enjoying his career-defining season, was at the plate facing the lanky fireballer Randy ‘The Big Unit’ Johnson. Johnson screamed a fastball over Walker’s head that caused a collective gasp across the continent. Bench clearing brawl? No.

Walker, a left-hander, smiled, stepped out of the batter’s box, turned his helmet around backwards, and stepped back in to bat right-handed for the next pitch with a hilarious, uber-serious look on his face. Tense situation effectively defused, everyone watching was in stitches. For those who remembered a young Walker as the playful jokester on Lorne Upsdell’s Ridge Meadows minor ball teams, it was just classic Larry.

Perhaps the greatest of the 1990s Maple Ridge triumvirate—Cam Neely and Greg Moore being the others—that caused many to ponder what was in the water north of the Fraser, Walker learned the game with the Ridge Meadows Minor Baseball Association before moving on to teams in Pitt Meadows and Coquitlam.

Although he preferred hockey as a boy, the ballplayers that influenced Walker most were probably his own father, Larry Sr., and his three brothers. They played together on a local softball team. A late bloomer, there were memorable moments when his talent shone through. A tale of Walker hitting a home run out of Harris Road Park in Pitt Meadows and into the local swimming pool still makes the rounds.

He first attracted the attention of pro scouts at a Canadian national team training camp in Saskatchewan. Attending the Montreal Expos minor league camp in 1984, he signed as an undrafted free agent. A blown-out knee playing winter ball in Mexico forced him to miss the entire 1988 season nearly ending things before they began, but he rebounded to play his first game with the Expos in 1989, becoming a starter the following season.

From there, Walker established himself as one of the most feared combinations in all of baseball fusing blanket fielding with a monster bat. Over the course of his 17-year career with the Expos, Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals, he would win seven Golden Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, and was named to five All-Star Games.

His career season came in 1997 with the Rockies, where he hit .366 with 49 homers, 130 RBIs, and 33 stolen bases earning the National League MVP, the first Canadian-born player ever awarded this honour. A year later, Walker won the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s outstanding athlete.

Frequent injuries robbed his impressive career statistics of even further lustre, but his .313 average, 383 home runs, and 2,160 hits in 1,988 regular season games were still enough to warrant induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York in 2020–his final year of eligibility. He stands as the first British Columbian to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame and only the second Canadian after pitcher Ferguson Jenkins.

It seems very Canadian that as a teenager, Walker, the greatest professional baseball player this country has produced, dreamt of taking the ice with the Islanders during the glory years of Billy Smith and Mike Bossy. It says something about the state of the game in Canada in those years. There were few Canadian ballplayers in the big leagues Walker’s generation would wish to emulate.

It also speaks to how far Walker himself has opened the realm of possibilities for ensuing generations. Poll the current crop of BC and Canadian-born gems scattered throughout major league diamonds today and the money is on a dozen or more Canadian ballplayers being cited as influences, with Larry Walker, no doubt, top of the order.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.