Maple Ridge’s favourite ball player Larry Walker features prominently in a new book about the Montreal Expos.
Famed Expos chronicler Danny Gallagher did almost 100 interviews for the book, including one with Larry Walker Sr., who still resides in Maple Ridge, and the scout who signed Walker for the Expos. He devoted a chapter to how the Expos landed Walker, in the book for the 40th anniversary of the Montreal Expos capturing the NL East championship. It’s his seventh book about the Expos.
Never Forgotten: Tales of Ron LeFlore, Ron Hunt and other Expos yarns from 1969-2004 tells how Expos scout Bob Rogers had kept tabs on the younger Walker after seeing him play as a teen. Rogers was a part-time scout whose full-time job was as a longshoreman in Portland, Oregon.
“He had been watching Walker since he was 14-years-old, at various tournaments,” recalled Gallagher.
On a hunch, Rogers checked in with Walker Sr., and happened to phone just two days after Larry had quit school in Maple Ridge. Under the recruiting laws of the day, leaving school made a Canadian kid eligible to turn professional. Two days later, on Nov. 14, 1984, the Expos signed him.
Walker Sr. told the author that Rogers advised him the Expos didn’t have much money to spend and offered $1,500 as a signing bonus. He had other options – Walker was a goaltender who had tried out with the Regina Pats of the WHL.
Walker Sr. looked at this son and said, ‘Do you think you want to play baseball for a living?’ Walker Jr. replied ‘Yes’ and the contract was signed.
The author learned that the Toronto Blue Jays had been interested in Walker, but were concerned about “off-field intangibles.”
“He apparently had a reputation for a little bit of partying,” Gallagher said.
His book also talks about how other scouts simply blew it – one said Walker was slow afoot. He went on to steal 230 bases over his career, and had 33 steals in 1997.
“He had tremendous skills,” said the author and former baseball beat writer. “He was a five tool player, and just a great all-around athlete.
“He busted his gut when he played the game. He went all out.”
Gallagher devoted 16 pages in the book Walker, who will be inducted into the hall of fame in Cooperstown in an indoor, TV-only ceremony July 25.
He said playing in the thin air of Colorado, after he left Montreal, may have kept Walker from getting elected to Cooperstown sooner, as the ball park was considered friendly to hitters.
But he had been an all-star and a Golden Glove winner before leaving the Expos, Gallagher points out.
The 1994 season was cut short by a player strike, but with 44 doubles in just 103 games, Gallagher has it that Walker would have come close to the National League’s season record of 64, set in 1936, if the season had been played out.
“Before he went to Colorado, he was a tremendous ball player in Montreal,” said Gallagher. “The (hall of fame) voters finally did their job.”
That 1994 season is the lament of all Expos fans, when they had their shot at winning a World Series, before baseball was shut down by a player’s strike.
“They certainly would have gotten to the post season, but you never know in the playoffs…” said Gallagher.
Gallagher’s book is available on Amazon and Indigo.
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