In his final year on the ballot, Larry Walker’s bid for Cooperstown is heading toward a photo finish. Needing a jump of more than 20 percentage points from last year’s 54.6% support, Walker has been named on 85.0% of the ballots already made public in Ryan Thobodeaux's Hall of Fame vote tracker.
An all-time great for two different franchises, Walker played for 17 seasons and is one of 21 players in baseball history in the exclusive 300/400/500 club – with a .313 career batting average, .400 on-base percentage and .565 slugging percentage in at least 1,000 games.
He combined power hitting with speed and superb defense in right field – winning three National League batting titles, one home run crown, seven Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers and an NL MVP award.
The British Columbia native broke into the majors with the Montreal Expos and made the first of five All-Star appearances in his third full season. However, his career blossomed after he signed as a free agent with the Colorado Rockies in 1995 as the franchise moved into its new home, Coors Field.
Larry Walker hit 258 of his 383 career home runs as a member of the Colorado Rockies. (Photo: Jack Dempsey, AP)
The case for
Walker was one of the game’s best all-around players for over a decade. He slugged 383 career homers, including a league-leading 49 in his MVP-winning season of 1997, when he hit .366 with 143 runs scored, 130 RBI and 33 steals.
The following year, he won the first of three batting titles in a four-season span.
He was a good baserunner with 10 consecutive seasons of double-digit stolen bases and a total of 230 in his career.
Walker was also one of the game’s best defensive outfielders, winning five Gold Glove awards in six seasons from 1997-2002. With a strong and accurate throwing arm, he led the NL in outfield assists in 2002 and topped all right fielders in assists two other times.
The case against
Walker battled injuries throughout his career, only once playing more than 145 games in a season. He ranks 68th all-time in home runs, but his career totals in hits (2,160), RBI (1,311) and runs (1,355) are all outside the top 100.
Although he had several outstanding individual seasons, they came during a time when offensive numbers were up across the board in major league baseball.
And his postseason resume is poor. Walker made only one playoff appearance with the Rockies, hitting .214 in a 1995 NL division series loss to the Atlanta Braves. (Although the 1994 strike cost him a chance to make it with an Expos team that had the game’s best record.)
He reached the playoffs twice more at the end of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, but lost to the Boston Red Sox in 2004 in his only World Series appearance. In 100 postseason at-bats, he hit .230 with seven home runs.
The thin air in Denver certainly helped Walker hit new heights on offense. Over 10 seasons in baseball’s best hitter’s park, he posted a .334 batting average and 1.044 OPS. But he even when adjusting for the Coors Field factor, he still finished his career with an OPS+ of 141 (73rd all-time).
Despite his many injuries, Walker’s 72.7 career WAR compares favorably with the 24 right fielders already in the Hall of Fame (average: 73.2), with his seven-year peak slightly above average. Those numbers are also better than his contemporary, Vladimir Guerrero (59.4 WAR), who was elected to the Hall in 2018.
Walker could do it all – hit, run and field with the best in the game. The one thing he couldn’t do consistently over his 17 seasons was stay healthy, which cost him the ability to pad his career totals.
One or two votes could be the difference between Walker being enshrined with the Class of 2020 or falling agonizingly short in his final year of eligibility.
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