Saturday, October 16, 2021

Rocky retires Larry Walker’s No. 33 in emotional pregame ceremony at Coors Field

When Larry Walker was traded to St. Louis in 2004, he wondered what legacy he was leaving behind in Colorado.

Saturday at Coors Field, Walker—inducted as the team’s first Hall of Famer on September 8—was no longer in doubt about his place in Rockies lore. Colorado retired their number 33 in an emotional pregame ceremony featuring a moving speech by the outfielder, who played 10 seasons at Lodo.

“When I traded I knew I was rising in age (at 37), and I had a relatively large contract at the time,” Walker said. “I understood the game and the moves they were trying to do, and there’s no hard feelings. But it was tough because it was my home, and I had a house here, I even spent a few winters here. Business Doing and moving to another city is never a good thing, because there are always those great feelings you don’t want to leave behind and that you don’t want to forget.

“With my number retired, I now know I have not been forgotten.”

Walker was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his 10th and final year on the ballot in 2020, clearing the required 75% threshold by a mere six votes. But because of the pandemic, they waited 409 days earlier this month to be officially installed in Cooperstown. In turn, the Rockies pushed back their retirement numbers, which were originally scheduled for April 19, 2020.

Former third baseman Vinnie Castilla, original GM Bob Gebhard and owner Dick Monfort spoke in front of Walker, who took the field to Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” (his walk-up song) and a standing ovation. Just before they spoke, the Rockies played a video tribute and then the Walker’s daughters pulled back a large purple sheet and fireworks went off as Number 33 was unveiled in front of the second deck in right-center.

The No. 33 display looks like Todd Helton’s No. 17 circle, with purple numbers and a pinstripe background, but the Walker is surrounded by gold and tagged “HOF” on the bottom.

The 54-year-old spoke for nearly five minutes to a nearly-capacity crowd saturated in all arrays of Walker jerseys. Attendance by Walker’s bobblehead giveaway was also buoyed. The bobblehead shows Walker wearing the team’s “Turn Ahead the Clock” uniform and holding his bat skyward after hitting a walk-off Homer against the Braves on August 18, 1999.

It was Homer Walker’s second of that particular game – he had also hit an opposite field shot in the first inning – and became one of the outfielder’s signature moments. But Walker said his favorite memory from his Colorado stint is winning a wild card in his first season in Denver in 1995.

“You don’t come here to boast of personal numbers, you come out to throw champagne at your teammates,” Walker said. “So nothing beats that playoff season in 1995.”

The Rockies won the wild card on the final day of the season at Coors Field, registering a thrilling 10–9 win over the Giants. This made Colorado the fastest expansion team to achieve a playoff berth (a mark later broken by the Diamondbacks) and Walker was 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs in the game.

Walker remembered running into the field with his teammates to celebrate in front of a sold out crowd. And he later set about moving to the third level of the stadium, on the 20th and Blake’s watch, with Dante Bichet continuing the festivities with fans in the street in front of the main gate.

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“Dante and I went up there, just goofing off, and there were probably 20 people down there (on the street),” Walker said. “We started hooting and hollering, and they hooted and yelled back, and then that crowd grew and grew and grew and then there were thousands of people down there.”

Although it would be Walker’s only playoff appearance with the club in 1995, he received two seasons post (and two World Series homer hits) in his two seasons at St. But what Walker lacked in the team’s success, he made up for with personal admiration.

The 1997 NL MVP is still the only Colorado player to win the award, and was a three-time National League batting champion. He hit 383 career homers, won seven Gold Gloves, and was a five-time All-Star. And in a 17-year career in which he dropped .313/.400/.565, Walker joined Barry Bonds as the only two players in MLB history to have at least 300 homers, 200 steals and at least Had an OPS of at least .950.

But Walker played the humble superstar on Saturday, and then emphasized that there’s no doubt he was going to Cooperstown with a Colorado hat on his plaque.

The Maple Ridge, British Columbia, native who grew up with dreams of being an NHL goalkeeper, originally signed with the Expo in 1984 as a free agent. He spent most of 1985–89 in the minors, and played six seasons in Montreal, before debuting in August of that year. With Expo, he earned his first All-Star nod and became a known commodity along the way.

But Denver is where his baseball heart is, Walker explained.

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