With Pat Gillick being elected by the Veterans Committee, Roberto Alomar likely to be voted in by the writers and longtime Expos broadcaster Dave Van Horne to receive the Ford C. Frick Award, the 2011 National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will have a distinctly Canadian flavor.
In his first year on the ballot, Maple Ridge, B.C. native, Larry Walker, is worthy of sharing the stage with this trio, but will likely have to wait to be enshrined.
Signed by the Montreal Expos in 1989, Walker was arguably the best all-around player of his era. Many feel, however, that his Hall of Fame case will be hampered by the fact that he didn’t record 500 home runs or 3,000 hits. That may be true, but I challenge baseball writers to try to find a weakness in Walker’s game?
A perennial Triple Crown threat, Walker won three batting titles – the same number as first ballot Cooperstowner George Brett – during his 17-year career. Baseball pundits often insist that a player has to be dominant for close to a decade to merit serious consideration. Well from 1994 to 2002, Walker hit .339, the only big leaguer with a better average during that stretch was Tony Gwynn.
Power? Walker averaged 31 home runs a season (better than Hall of Fame outfielders Andre Dawson, Jim Rice and Orlando Cepeda). In one of the best campaigns in big league history, Walker hit .366 with 49 home runs and 130 RBIs in 1997. For his efforts, he was named the National League MVP, the first time a Canadian has garnered the honour.
Most remarkable, however, is Walker’s career .565 slugging percentage, a stat that ranks him 14th all-time, ahead of Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. With a .965 career OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), he sits 16th on the all-time list. Just behind him on that list are Mel Ott, Ty Cobb and Willie Mays.
But Walker wasn’t strictly a slugger. The proud Canuck swiped 33 bases in 1997, 230 in his career and was often lauded as one of the best baserunners in the game. He also garnered seven Gold Gloves and racked up 150 outfield assists (seventh on the all-time list for right fielders).
Critics say Walker’s stats were inflated because he played the bulk of his career at the hitter friendly Coors Field. But Walker’s OPS+ (an adjusted OPS figure that takes into account the ballpark he played in) is still a solid +140, which compares favorably with those registered by Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson, Eddie Collins and Duke Snider. Let’s also not forget that Babe Ruth was aided by the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium and that Ted Williams benefited from playing at Fenway Park.
In an era rife with steroid allegations, Walker’s name was never dragged into the discussions. Various injuries denied the Canadian outfielder a shot at 500 homers and 3,000 hits, but had he been injury-free, there’s no question we would be talking about a first ballot Hall of Famer.
But setting his statistics aside, it’s safe to say that Walker has been the most influential player in Canadian baseball history. Ask Justin Morneau, Jason Bay or Joey Votto whom they idolized when they were growing up and whom they model their career after now? They will all tell you Larry Walker.
I don’t have a vote but I’m convinced that Walker is a first ballot Hall of Famer. Unfortunately, he’s unlikely to be sharing the stage with Gillick, Alomar and Van Horne in Cooperstown next July. I suspect his path to eventual enshrinement will be similar to Andre Dawson’s. It took The Hawk nine years on the ballot to finally be elected. Walker shouldn’t have to wait that long.
Another great article.
500 and 3000 are shoe-ins.
400 and 2500 are great shots
383 and 2160 are maybes.
I say this because they have 600 voters (approx.) and they need 75% of them to get inducted to check off his box. That’s tough because so many of them look at the numbers 500HR and 3000H and that’s not fair. Expecially in the 1990’s-2000’s when Larry played clean.
He should be in and he will be, but I think we are looking at waiting about 10yrs!
Very convincing argument, Kevin. Thanks for laying out Walker’s accomplishments so eloquently. He certainly deserves consideration for enshrinement into the HOF.
If this were a trial and you were his lawyer, he’d certainly win the case. You convinced me.
I totally agree with all of that unfortunately. He will have to wait and even then it’s no lock. He deserves to be in the Hall no doubt.
Did you really compare Larry Walker (140 OPS+) to Ted Williams (191 OPS+) and Babe Ruth (207 OPS+)…..? Coors Field is arguably the greatest hitters haven in the history of Major League Baseball-especially pre humidor Coors. That said, Walker was a complete player and in my mind no doubt a Hall of Famer. I just had cherry-picking stats for an argument. Yes, his OPS+ is higher than McGriff, Delgado, Helton, Jackson, Brett, Boggs, Henderson, Gwynn, Rose, Rice, Dawson, Murray, Palmeiro, Sosa, and others, but it’s also in the same neighborhood as Sheffield, Jones, Vlad, Thome, Clark (either), and is significantly lower than Pujols, Bonds, Manny, Thomas, Bagwell, and Edgar, among those of this era alone.