Larry Walker was one of the greatest players to ever don a Rockies jersey, and while his candidacy as a Hall of Fame caliber ballplayer is in question, one thing that can never be debated is his Hall of Fame personality. Few players exuded the wackiness that became synonymous with the outfielder affectionately known as Booger.
The first time I saw Walker in person, was in the inaugural year of Coors Field, back in 1995. He was playing below me in right field and I was sitting near the front row of the stands above the scoreboard. It was late in the game and a reliever was being brought in to replace Kevin Ritz when Walker walked over to the foul line, tossed his glove to the ball boy and told him to cover for him. Larry proceeded to sit down on the stool and began munching nachos from some dude in the stand—all while the reliever warmed up! Walker went on to hit three home runs in the series as the Rockies swept the Pirates, but that turned out to be the boring part.
The Rockies signed Walker prior to the 1995 season, and while he was considered one of the top free agents available, many fans remembered him from a play in the previous year against the Dodgers, when he tossed a ball into stands after the second out of the inning while a runner was still on base.
The Expos were playing the Dodgers in LA when Mike Piazza lifted a lazy fly ball to foul ground. Walker easily jogged over to catch the ball and then flipped it into the stands thinking it was the last out of the inning. The only problem was, it was only the second out of the inning, and there was still a man on first base.
Booger was running off the field when he realized his mistake, he hurried back to the wall and snatched the ball away from the fan before firing it in towards home plate. Meanwhile, the Dodger runner had tagged up and motored to third base before Walker realized his mistake. In the video, Walker can be seen afterwards chatting it up with the fan probably trying to make it up to them for stealing their souvenir. As Larry walks away, you can see his Bill Murray ‘I made a goof’ face appear.
It’s hard to blame Walker for losing track of the rules of the game. Baseball wasn’t his first choice, he was a hockey fan first and foremost, it just happened to be coincidence that he was one of the best ballplayers in the game.
A hockey fan who could have fit into the movie Slapshot, Walker didn’t fit into the norms of baseball. Walker’s lack of experience was apparent back in the minor leagues when he was playing in Utica representing the Expos and he was called out for running the bases incorrectly. He had just rounded second on a hit-and-run play when the ball was caught and he had to return to first. So in typical Booger fashion, he cut straight across the diamond nearly colliding with the pitcher while attempting to make it back to first base. He was called out for leaving the base path and his coach tore into him. Walker didn’t understand the problem with the route he took and why he would have to touch second again and he responded: “I already did (touch second), the first time.”
Walker had a unique relationship with numbers, and the number three in particular. According to an article in SI, he was fascinated with the number and his entire day was centered around it. For instance, he would set his alarm to go off at 33 past the hour. He would take swings in sequences of three during batting practice. He was also married on November 3rd at 3:33 p.m., and when he was divorced three years later, his ex-wife received a $3 million settlement. While playing for the Expos, Walker once purchased 33 tickets for disadvantaged kids to sit in section 333.
Known for wearing a sanitary sock on his head around the clubhouse, Walker was kooky in ways that threw players off their game. In 1997 Larry was flirting with .400 and was matched up against the hard throwing Randy Johnson in the All-Star game. Recognized for a triple digit fastball capable of destroying birds in midflight, the lefty was one of the scariest pitchers in the game and many managers would sit their best lefthanded hitters against him.
Walker didn’t have the luxury of sitting out the midsummer classic and so he stepped into the box to face the 6’10 flamethrower. The first pitch was a little tight and left Walker visibly shaken as he touched his heart. So he stepped out of the box, switched over to the right hand side where he flipped his helmet around and faced the Big Unit batting righthanded wearing his helmet backwards.
The move caught Johnson off guard and he stepped off the rubber to grab the rosin bag, visibly smirking at the act. The players in the clubhouse were howling in laughter as Mark Grace and Barry Bonds slapped their knee in glee. Walker stood in there looking like he was going to rip one into the gap, but he was taking all the way and it’s a ball. Booger ended up switching back to his lefthanded stance and earned a walk against Johnson.
Nobody knows what made Larry Walker tic. Maybe it was because he grew up a hockey-playing Canadian. Maybe it had something to do with his parents Larry and Mary naming their four kids Barry, Carey, Gary and Larry.
It’s hard to say where that fun loving, crazy train personality came from, but Rockies fans will forever remeber the guy who would play tic-tac-toe in the infield while playing first base. The guy who would deke a ball of the wall and throw out the runner at second. We all wish his body had held up enough to play more games, because his personality was enough to be considered Hall of Fame worthy, and he was one of the greatest hitters to ever crush a ball in Coors Field.