Larry Walker has been waiting 10 years to get into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
And he’s fine with waiting one more.
Walker, the 1997 National League MVP from Maple Ridge, B.C., was to be enshrined at the Hall in Cooperstown, N.Y., this Sunday, but the induction ceremony was cancelled back in April amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
So instead of holding up his plaque and giving a speech in front of a crowd of thousands, Walker will be celebrating in his own muted way.
“I’ll probably be on the golf course,” he said with a laugh in a recent phone interview with Canadian Press. “That’s a way of commemorating it I guess.”
The former Colorado Rockies and Montreal Expos all-star became just the second Canadian elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame when the inductees were announced in January.
He will join Chatham, Ont., pitcher Fergie Jenkins there, eventually.
The 53-year-old Walker, known for his modest demeanour, joked that he had urged the Hall of Fame to go ahead with a fanless ceremony so he could avoid speaking to a large crowd.
Attendance at the event last year was 55,000.
“I would have been happy to speak in front of a couple dozen instead,” he laughed. “That would have been perfect for me.
“But [postponing the ceremony] turned out to be the right thing to do ... and it didn’t bother me. I’m OK with it.”
Walker’s success during his 17-year MLB career was plentiful: three batting titles, seven Gold Gloves, five all-star appearances to go along with his MVP award.
Still, he just narrowly made it into the Hall this year – on his 10th and final year on the ballot – receiving 76.6 per cent of the vote by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. That pushed him over the required 75 per cent threshold by just six votes.
Walker had expressed doubt that he’d get the votes needed on the day the inductees were announced Jan. 21, tweeting “I believe I’m going to come up a little short” while thanking his supporters.
Months later, Walker says that disbelief continues.
“I still don’t feel like it actually happened, so I guess it hasn’t hit me yet,” he said. “In my head I’m still the same guy. Nothing’s changed. And I’m trying to stay in my moment until the day comes when we go there next year. Hopefully it’ll [happen] next year – who knows?”
Walker was wearing a black and yellow SpongeBob SquarePants NASCAR-style shirt – complete with lettering on the front that read “Ain’t No Ordinary Sponge” – when he was recorded on video taking the inductee announcement call. He kept the shirt on for subsequent TV interviews that day.
The shirt, which the Hall of Fame later took from Walker to add to his display there, spurred plenty of buzz on social media.
Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, even sent Walker a video congratulating him on his induction.
Walker says he wasn’t expecting the attention the shirt received.
“I was completely surprised,” he said. “My kids thought I was a little goofy, like ‘why are you wearing that?’ But then again, I wasn’t expecting a phone call and then a video to be taken and put all over the internet.
“So everything was kind of an on-a-whim surprise. But it all turned out good.”