The Lou Marsh Legacy - Honouring Canada's Top Athletes

Larry Walker

Baseball

1998


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Walker a hit with voters as top athlete

Thursday, December 17, 1998

BY DOUG SMITH
SPORTS REPORTER

Larry Walker is still a little mystified about voting for the Lou Marsh Trophy.

Mystified as well as flattered and honoured, mind you, after the Colorado Rockies star was named Canada’s top athlete for 1998 yesterday in voting by a panel of Toronto media members.

The native of Maple Ridge, B.B., was upset at losing a year ago to auto racer Jacques Villeneuve and he was a bit surprised to win the honour this time around.

“I’m shocked, honoured, but a little shocked,” the 32-year-old said yesterday from his winter home in Florida. “After the year I had, I didn’t think anything good would come of it.

“But it’s really nice to be honoured in your own country for excelling at an American pastime. It’s flattering.”

Walker beat out a group of six other finalists who re-present a wide range of sport. They were long-track speed skater Catriona Le May Doan, a double medalist at the Nagano Olympics; figure skater and Olympic silver medalist Elvis Stojko; Olympic bobsled gold medalist Pierre Lueders; Ironman triathlon champion Peter Reid; and kayak world champion Caroline Brunet.

Other Canadian stars under consideration were short-track speed skater Annie Perreault, swimmers Joanne Malar and Marianne Limpert and CIAU football star Eric Lapointe.

“If you look at the list, it illustrates the depth of Canadian talent in any number of sports worldwide,” Star sports editor Steve Tustin said. “Every one of them should make Canadian sports fans proud. Walker proved again last season he’s one of the best players in the game.”

Walker, the first baseball player to win the award since Ferguson Jenkins in 1974, led the National League in batting with a .366 average while hitting 23 homers and driving in 67 runs. He also won his fourth Gold Glove despite missing large chunks of the season with injuries. He had elbow surgery last January.

However, his statistics pale in comparison with the spectacular year he has in 1997, when he lost a close ballot to Jacques Villeneuve, the Formula One driving champion. That sea-son Walker won the NL’s most valuable player award, led the NL in homers with 49, batted .366 with 409 total bases, a .720 slugging percentage and 99 extra-base hits. It was one of the best statistical sea-sons in baseball history.

“I don’t know if that happened,” he said of a possible makeup vote from the panel of electors. “That’s up to the voters, I guess, and for the public to judge.”

Walker’s rise to baseball prominence comes after he began his athletic career as a hockey player.

Le May Doan, meanwhile, was one of the most favoured finalists because of her record-shattering performance at the Nagano Olympics last winter. The Saskatoon native became the first Canadian woman to win a gold medal in long-track and speed skating, taking the 500 metres.

The 27-year-old then grabbed a bronze win the 1,000-metre race and was chosen to carry the Canadian flag at the Games’ closing ceremonies.

Joining Tustin on the selection panel were Star sports columnist Dave Perkins, Canadian Press sports editor Neil Davidson, Globe and Mail sports editor Neil A. Campbell, Sun sports editor Scotty Morrison, CBC sportscasters Brian Williams and TSN reporter Teresa Kruze. Jake Gaudaur, former CFL commissioner, serves as the committee chair.

The Lou Marsh Trophy, named after the legendary former sports editor of The Star, was first awarded in 1936. It has been given to the top Canadian athlete ever since with the exception of 1942, ’43, and ’44 when it was awarded to Canadian athletes who paid the supreme sacrifice during World War II.

VINCENT LAFORET/AFP FILE PHOTO
MYSTIFIED: Larry Walker, who led National League in hitting, says he’s “shocked” at being named Canada’s top athlete for 1998.

KEN FAUGHT/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO
GOLDEN SMILE: Olympic speed-skating champion Catriona Le May Doan of Saskatoon was a finalist in voting for the Lou Marsh Trophy.