If there’s a name that resonates with baseball people in Canada it’s Larry Walker.
When Larry Walker Sr. calls a pitch a strike, what coach is going to argue with that ump?
Walker has pine tar in his veins.
This was once a big lefthanded pitcher who threw against the men of Maple Ridge before he had his first shave, and came within a whisker of turning professional himself.
The man who raised Canadian baseball’s favourite son, and his namesake, is still giving to the game. He does a lot more for Ridge Meadows Minor Baseball than just call balls and strikes – he came back as a member of the executive.
“He came back, and has done a fantastic job,” said association president Cornelius Temple, explaining that the elder Walker has revitalized umpiring and officiating for kids aged 12-15 locally.
“You have to really support them,” said Temple. “He’s done a fantastic job.”
He’s also a great voice on the executive.
“He’s absolutely a real baseball guy. He appreciates the game, and understands the game.”
The president said Walker is also still a bona fide ball player – he watched him swing a bat a few years ago in a coaches vs. players game.
“The dude could hit, man. If he was in his 50s he would have launched one over the highway.”
The senior Walker launched quite a few in his time.
Walker’s childhood included watching his father Ken play ball for the Hammond Cedar team, where the worked in the 1940s. The whole community would come to the ball park to watch them take on rival Haney. It was the main entertainment, and the main summer sport.
“It was a totally different era,” said Walker. “It’s so diversified now – in those days you played baseball. Summertime was baseball, and that’s all there was.”
When he was just 13, Walker was called up to pitch for the Hammond senior team, and by 14 he was a regular, in 1952, playing against guys in their 20s.
“I did okay. Held my own,” he remembers. “I had no problem getting guys out.”
He didn’t feel a lot of pressure, but the attitude of players wasn’t as serious on the ball field back then, he recalls.
“It was just a game, and it was a game for fun.”
He started climbing the ladder to professional baseball.
A stint with the Vancouver Mounties led to him signing with Yakima of the Northwest League. That was Class B baseball, which Walker estimates would be about the calibre of double A today. It was professional ball then, and the circuit survives as Single A ball to this day.
Yakima sold his contract to the Philadelphia Phillies of the Major Leagues, and in 1955 he went to their farm team in Raleigh, North Carolina.
It wasn’t for him. He didn’t feel at home, he was shocked by race relations there, and was soon homesick.
“It was a whole different ball game, and I didn’t enjoy it.”
While Walker may have given up his chance to play at the highest level, he is philosophical about it today. He came home to Maple Ridge and raised a family, including one of the country’s most famous ball players.
“If I didn’t come home, he might not have ever been conceived.”
He played senior ball locally as a pitcher who was also a fearsome hitter. In 1958, he was MVP of the Dewdney League.
Eventually though, television whittled away fan interest in watching live local games. Teams dried up.
“I didn’t really hang ‘em up, baseball hung me up,” he said. “It was too bad. There was no place to play.”
After a long hiatus, and at the age of 78, baseball has come calling again.
He’s at the ball park five or six nights per week calling games, and spends hours during the day scheduling umpires to work other games.
“I’ll have to go out and get a job, so I can get some time off,” he joked.
“They’ve got a good group of people on the executive, and I’m glad to be part of it.”
And the executive appreciates the connection to Maple Ridge baseball history that Walker embodies.
“We have cornerstones in this organization, and if not for them we wouldn’t know our history and where we come from,” said Temple.
“We haven’t lost our roots, because they’re right here, firmly planted.”
A baseball family
Larry met his wife, local Mary Plumpton, at a Hammond boxing match, which was the other official sport of Hammond. Together they had four sons, all with names that rhyme with their parents’; Barry, Carey, Gary, and Larry Jr. Mary made sure that all the boys were in the stands when their Dad played.
In the mid 1970s, Larry Jr. became the bat boy for his Dad’s team, the Alouettes. Larry Jr. started his 17-year career with the Montreal Expos in 1989, after they signed the undrafted right-fielder as an amateur free agent. He was signed with the Colorado Rockies in 1995 and it was there where he would make a name for himself in the majors.
Larry Jr. was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, making his only World Series appearance that year as the Cardinals were swept by the Boston Red Sox.
Larry Jr. retired from the MLB in 2005. His career batting average of .313, with 383 home runs and 1,311 RBIs make him the all-time leading offensive Canadian player in Major League history. During his Major League career, Larry Jr. won the National League batting title three times, was a five time all-star, and a seven time Gold Glove winner.
Larry Jr. was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame on October 25, 2007 in Toronto, making him the first Maple Ridge product to ever earn the honour.
– Files from Maple Ridge Museum