Larry Walker becomes first Rockies player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

Sports

FILE – In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, right, and former Colorado Rockies outfielder Larry Walker pose after receiving their Baseball Hall of Fame jerseys during a baseball news conference in New York. Jeter and Walker and the rest of this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame class will have to wait for their big moment at Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame announced Wednesday, April 29, 2020, that it has canceled its July 26 induction ceremony because of the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — Colorado Rockies legend Larry Walker is now officially in the Baseball Hall of Fame after a longer-than-expected wait caused by COVID-19.

Walker, along with Ted Simmons, the late Marvin Miller, and Derek Jeter, were elected to Cooperstown in 2020 but the ceremony was delayed. They would have been inducted alongside members of the class of 2021, but there were no players elected.

The delay didn’t matter much to Walker, the second Canadian elected to the Hall of Fame and the first member of the Rockies. He gave up hockey when he was 16 to focus on baseball. He was selected in his 10th and final year on the writers’ ballot after a stellar career with Montreal, Colorado and St. Louis that included 383 homers and three batting titles.

“It’s taken a little longer to reach this day (but) for all your support I’ve received throughout the years from my home country, I share this honor with every Canadian,” said Walker, who retired in 2005. “I hope that all you Canadian kids out there that have dreams of playing in the big leagues that see me here today gives you another reason to go after those dreams. To my adopted home, the United States, I thank you for allowing this Canadian kid to come into your country to live and play your great pastime. I think we’re all pretty fortunate to have two amazing countries side by side.”

Later this month Walker will be honored with a bobblehead during one of the Rockies’ home games at Coors Field.

The 72-year-old Simmons, who starred in a 21-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee and Atlanta, punctuated his speech to thank four pioneers of free agency — Curt Flood, Catfish Hunter, Andy Messersmith, and Marvin Miller — “who changed the lives of every player on this stage today by pushing the boundaries of player rights.”

“Marvin Miller made so much possible for every major league player from my era to the present and the future,” the former catcher said. “I could not be more proud to enter this great hall with this great man. Even though my path has been on the longer side, I wouldn’t change a thing. However we get here none of us arrives alone. I’m no exception.”

Miller, who transformed baseball on the labor front by building a strong players union and led the charge for free agency in the mid-1970s, was honored posthumously. Four years before he died at 95 in 2012, Miller respectfully asked to be removed from consideration for the Hall of Fame after being passed over several times.

“One thing a trade union leader learns to do is how to count votes in advance. Whenever I took one look at what I was faced with, it was obvious to me it was not gonna happen,” Miller, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966-83, wrote in 2008. “If considered and elected, I will not appear for the induction if I’m alive. If they proceed to try to do this posthumously, my family is prepared to deal with that.”

The family didn’t. Instead, Don Fehr, who was hired by Miller to be the union’s general counsel in 1977 and succeeded him eight years later, had the honor.

“Of all the players I had the privilege to represent, I want to thank you Marvin,” said Fehr, now the head of the National Hockey League Players Association. “Baseball was not the same after your tenure as it was before. It was and is much better for everyone. You brought out the best of us and you did us proud.”

Derek Jeter was simply Derek Jeter on his special day, a cloudy Wednesday afternoon with the temperature in the 70s and a few sprinkles in the air.

Greeted by raucous cheers in a crowd that included NBA luminaries Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing, several of his former teammates, and Hall of Fame Yankees manager Joe Torre on the stage behind him, Jeter took the stage after fellow inductees from the class of 2020 Ted Simmons, Larry Walker and the late Marvin Miller were honored. Jeter was touched by the moment and acknowledged how different the ceremony seemed in the wake of the recent deaths of 10 Hall of Famers.

“I’m so honored to be inducted with you guys and linked to you forever,” he said. “The Hall of Fame is special because of those who are in it. We’ve lost way too many Hall of Famers over the last 20 months. These are all Hall of Famers who would have or could have been here, so for that reason it’s not the same.”

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