Walker says goodbye to baseball
Cardinals veteran has played his final game
ST. LOUIS -- This wasn't the bookend Larry Walker wanted to put on his baseball career, not from a team standpoint and not from a personal standpoint.But when the Cardinals saw their season end with a Game 6 loss to Houston, the 38-year-old right fielder knew his career of 17-plus years was over. Walker doubled in the sixth inning for one of only three Cardinals hits off Astros starter Roy Oswalt, but he struck out in his final at-bat in the ninth to finish off his 2005 season, and his career. "I was remembering earlier today what I did in my first at-bat, it was a walk against Mike LaCoss," said Walker, who actually walked three times in his debut game on Aug. 16, 1989. "In my last at-bat, I struck out against Dan Wheeler. "I can't remember what came in between." Always the humble cutup, Walker had plenty that came in between. Signed by the Expos as a non-drafted free agent out of British Columbia in 1985, Walker made his debut with the Expos in 1989 and became one of baseball's best all-around players in the 1990s, winning National League Most Valuable Player honors in 1997 and making five All-Star Game appearances. His last postseason, his last game and certainly his last at-bat won't reflect the best of his tremendous career. Walker finished 3-for-19 in the NLCS, and went 3-for-28 in the postseason. "Personally, it was frustrating," Walker said. "I didn't play well, and we lost." Wednesday night marked not only the end of a glorious career but also the end of a painful year for Walker. Walker managed to play only 100 games in his final regular season, due to a painful neck ailment he played through as much as he could. "There are no excuses," said Walker, who first started hinting at retirement in June. "I've never made any, and I'm not going to make any now." His teammates, who planned to take Walker out to honor him after clearing out of Busch Stadium on Wednesday night, certainly understood what he was going through and weren't shy about giving the affable outfielder his kudos after Game 6. A sampling: First baseman Albert Pujols: "It's 17 years he played? I'm just glad to be a part of these last two years with him." Center fielder Jim Edmonds: "The best thing I can say is, 'Congratulations on a great career and on retirement,' actually. Any time you can play as long as he did and have a career that he did, you should be congratulated. I think it's pretty special. "I told him [when] he was getting a little sad, I said, 'I think you should be smiling right now. You've had an unbelievable career and you've got lots of money and now you get to go home and enjoy your family.' I think that's what's special."
Left fielder Reggie Sanders: "He was dealing with a lot, physically and mentally. But he's a true professional. He's going to go out there and give what he has. For us, as players in this clubhouse, we support each other. We do what we need to do to have each other's back. And we're just really proud of what Larry's done for us."Shortstop David Eckstein: "You wish you could write a better script for him. He deserves a World Series ring, just by the way he plays." Walker came to the Cardinals in an Aug. 2004 trade for three Minor Leaguers after clearing waivers while with the Rockies, the team with which he spent a decade as a cornerstone after establishing himself with the Expos. His arrival took the Cardinals lineup to a different level, as he batted in the No. 2 hole -- not a bad place for a hitter with his power. He did get his first chance to play in the World Series last year, when the Cardinals were beaten by the Red Sox. Earlier in 2004, he'd collected his 2,000th career hit with a double on June 30 against Milwaukee, becoming the first Canadian-born player to reach that plateau. He finishes his career with a .313 career average, a .965 on-base plus slugging average, 383 homers, 1,311 RBIs and 2,160 hits in 1,988 games played. Oh, and the undying admiration of those who have been around him these last two years of his marvelous career. "Most people know the kind of player that he has been his whole career. I mean, just a gifted, all-around everything," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "In fact, I think he probably would be in the top three of just about every category: baserunning, defense, handling the bat. "What we came to learn about him, he's really an outstanding personality. I mean, guys like to spend time with him. ... We didn't know it until he was a teammate, [but] this guy is a great teammate who is a lot of fun to be around and helped keep those positive vibes that we've had ever since he's been here." And that's the part that Walker will miss the most, the camaraderie of being a teammate and taking on the opposition together. "Going out there with a group of guys and challenging nine other guys to a baseball game, there's nothing better than that," Walker said.
John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.