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Why does Larry Walker mean so much to Colorado Rockies fans?

Drew Creasman Avatar
September 27, 2021

What is left to say about Larry Walker?

What is left for a Colorado Rockies fan to read or hear or know about Larry Walker?

If you’ve come across this, the chances are incredibly high that you know all the stats and anecdotes and moments and milestones.

You know he put up more career WAR in less time than Yankees icon Derek Jeter despite being on the complete opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of how long it took them to get inducted into the Hall of Fame.

You know about the number 33, it’s significance to Walker, and all the impossible ways it has played a role in the life and career of the 333rd man inducted into Cooperstown.

You will forever be able to recount the story of the time he wore his helmet backward and took a pitch from the right-handed batter’s box against the intimidating Randy Johnson in the 1997 All-Star Game. And the time he ran the bases wrong in Utica. And the time he handed the ball to a fan with an out remaining in the inning and play still live.

You can close your eyes right now and play a highlight reel in your mind of that phenom in the field, on the bases, and at the plate.

You don’t mind being reminded, but you knew all that.

So what’s left to say about Larry Walker?

Sep 25, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies former right fielder Larry Walker Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports

I essentially began my baseball writing career by campaigning for Walker’s legitimacy to join the Hall. Other than perhaps Nolan Arenado, there is no other individual I have spent more time talking, writing, and thinking about over the last eight years.

Though I actually covered Arenado for seven years, Walker retired eight years before I published my first word.

That was back when I was just a fan. A Rockies fan.

So that got me to asking this question: Why does this man mean so much to Rockies fans? Why does he mean so much… to us?

Upon thinking past all the things we’ve all been singing from the rooftops for years – the road stats and WAR and fun character stories – I came to two answers:

You never forget your first.

And he embodies everything that it means to be a fan of the Colorado Rockies.

Sep 25, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies former right fielder Larry Walke (right) Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports

For most baseball fans in the world, they were born into a storied history.

The very moment that fans of the Yankees or Red Sox or Dodgers take their first breath, or first get converted, a litany of legends from the past are waiting for them.

There are only a handful of franchises other than the Rockies who have just recently seen their first inductee to the Hall of Fame.

After being spurned by Randy Johnson in 2015 – he entered with the “A” of the Arizona Diamondbacks – the Seattle Mariners waited until 2016 when The Kid, Ken Griffey Jr., slid in smoothly on the first ballot. They added their second just three years later with Edgar Martinez.

The Houston Astros also took a while then got a pair with Craig Biggio in 2015 and Jeff Bagwell in 2017, a mere 50-plus years after the birth of their franchise.

Can Colorado follow a similar pattern with Todd Helton quickly following Walker?

The Angels got their first Hall of Famer in 2018 with Vladimir Guerrero, a close comparison to Walker in many ways, though it is interesting that he spent only five seasons in LA, actually playing more in Montreal.

Of the other expansion teams from the 1990s, the Marlins and Rays do not yet have a Hall of Famer (or true franchise icon) and while Randy Johnson went in wearing a Diamondbacks hat in 2015, like Guerrero, he spent more time with another time in the Mariners.

Walker, of course, suited up for the Expos in the beginning and finished his career with the Cardinals, but played the entirety of his prime for nine and a half seasons with the Rockies.

He came up with the former and was traded to the latter.

Only twice did Walker have the choice in free agency of which team to play for during his MLB career. Both times, he chose the Colorado Rockies.

He chose you.

He didn’t know at the time that he was choosing to become the first Hall of Famer in the history of your franchise, but he was. And he, himself, never chose not to be here.

He grew into superstardom and the fanbase grew into existence at the exact same time.

Neither had a history or tradition to fall back on. Walker had always been a hockey player and Denver had always been a football town. And if you ask, both will tell you that they still are.

We all came to the same place together, located at 20th and Blake, and collectively fell in love with the same new religion.

We built tradition. Together.

What is left to say about him?

How about that there isn’t another relationship in modern baseball between a player and a fan base that is quite like the one that Rockies fans have with Larry Walker.

Perhaps a reframing of the question can give us the deepest insight into why so many fans donned purple and cried their eyes out this weekend despite the last few months feeling like some of the worst in franchise history.

So…

What’s left for Larry Walker to say?

Sep 25, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies former right fielder Larry Walker Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports

The story of the Colorado Rockies begins with the fans.

“If not for the fans, this team wouldn’t be here,” Walker said in an afternoon press conference and then later again in his speech at Coors Field commemorating the retiring of his number on Saturday night.

That’s true both in the literal and figurative sense. Without belief in fan support that ultimately played out over the next decade, the team never would have been birthed in the Mile High City in 1993.

And you won’t be writing the history of that newly-formed franchise for long before you get to No. 33.

The two years splitting time across town in the building where the Denver Broncos play were fun and carried plenty of memorable moments but also feel a big like a surrealist trial run. Turns out, we like baseball out here.

So, in 1995, the Rockies moved into Coors Field, the first new home they could truly call their own. And they got their first superstar.

We all welcomed each other into a new era.

From that moment forward, it becomes difficult to tell where Larry Walker, the incredible and unique baseball player, ends and Larry Walker, the living extended metaphor of Rockies fandom, begins.

Like your average Colorado baseball fan or really just Coloradoan, he’s relaxed,  straightforward, and loves to throw back with a couple of beers while doing just about anything that takes place outside.

He’s not boastful. Doesn’t need the attention of the big city or the bright lights. Doesn’t mind if some of the fancier folks don’t know exactly who he is or what he’s about. He knows his body of work and is damn proud of it.

He’s humble and thanked even the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who didn’t vote for him while the Big City Guy – some call him Derek Jeter – joked about not getting every single vote on his very first ballot.

Maybe that’s why Walker says, “It’s hard for me to think I fit,” when speaking of his company in the Hall.

After some time, though, it sank in. He does fit. There he was chatting it up with the game’s best.

“They don’t care if you went in on the first ballot or the last ballot,” he says of his fellow baseball legends.

Just like a Rockies fan, it’s still not perfectly clear where exactly in the grand story of baseball that he “fits,” but since the induction in Cooperstown and the unveiling of the gold trimmed No. 33 on the second deck façade of Coors Field, there is no argument that he, and you, do fit inside that story.

Like you, Walker was worried about being overlooked and forgotten in the baseball world. But with his number forever enshrined in Colorado lore, he laughs with real emotion, “I guess I haven’t been forgotten.”

Also like you, Walker pines for the day when Todd Helton gets his due.

He took time out of what was a relatively short speech on a day all about him to single out several teammates and do a little campaigning for the Toddfather, “who had a Hall of Fame career, in my opinion.” Walker also credited him with being the “greatest Rockie of all.”

And like you, Walker wants to see that day when a “parade comes marching down Blake Street,” as told the world on his induction day to the Hall.

He wants what you want. He is who you are.

Sure, this place could and would have embraced any player who put up the kind of numbers that Walker did in his career. And of course there is a special relationship with Helton as well.

But Walker’s quirky approachability and general demeanor made him the absolutely perfect person to represent this fanbase in every single way possible.

Sep 25, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Former Colorado Rockies right fielder Larry Walker Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports

So while it’s true that the weekend was all about celebrating the life and career of Larry Walker, he also made sure that it wasn’t just about that. It wasn’t just about him. It was about you.

It was about Rockies fans being validated just as much as it was about validating a legendary career.

If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself over the years as the only Rockies representative in conversations with baseball fans and when it came time for you to speak, you cringed in anxiety over the inevitable laughter that would arise when you brought up someone like Walker as a superstar.

“That place is a joke!”

“Those numbers aren’t real!”

“That doesn’t count. Baseball out there is a novelty act!”

You would argue until you were blue in the face. You didn’t have to look up the numbers. You know them by heart. But you’ve been laughed out of that conversation more times than you can count.

Who’s laughing now?

You don’t need to rant and rave and point to the spreadsheets and make the comparisons to other players and demand fairness. You simply have to point to a plaque on the wall and a number in the sky.

“Today, I don’t just say that I have a plaque in Cooperstown,” Walker said in the climax of his speech Saturday night for Rockies fans, “I say that we have a plaque in Cooperstown.”

He chose you. You chose him.

Now you both “fit” in the rafters at Coors Field and in a Hall in Cooperstown.

Forever. Together.

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