One of the most complete baseball players of this generation, Larry Walker could do anything on a baseball field. He hit for average, winning the batting title three times. He hit for power with over 380 home runs. He was an outstanding fielder with seven Gold Glove Awards. He could even run the bases with 230 steals to his name.
Yet somehow, he has come up short on the Hall of Fame Ballot for seven straight years. Last year, Walker received just 21.9 percent of the vote, which is not very close to the 75 percent mark. Some may hate on the fact that his career was cut short due to injuries, or even the fact that his best years were played in Colorado, the most favorable hitting park in the MLB. But when it comes down to the numbers, Larry Walker is a Hall of Famer.
As a kid growing up in Canada, Larry Walker liked to play hockey more than he did baseball. Walker dreamed of becoming an NHL goalie and would always practice with his pal, Cam Neely. Some NHL fans may have heard of him. Since his high school did not have a baseball team, Walker would only play a few baseball games in the summer.
At 16, Walker tried out for two Junior A hockey teams, but was cut from both. From this point on, baseball became his main focus. In fact, Walker can be credited for dramatically increasing the popularity of baseball in Canada. The shorter summers in Canada made it hard for Walker to get the experience he needed, but he clearly made it work.
Walker made this statement in an interview according to Society of American Baseball Research (SABR).
“I’d never seen a forkball, never seen a slider. I didn’t know they existed. I had never really seen a good curveball. In Canada, as a kid, we’d play 10 baseball games a year. 15 tops. Some pitchers had a thing they’d call a spinner, but nothing like this. Baseball just wasn’t big. The weather was against it. Nobody ever played baseball thinking about making the major leagues.”
Walker also was unfamiliar with a lot of the rules in baseball, further showing his lack of experience.
Although Walker went undrafted (Canadians were not yet eligible to be selected in the MLB draft), Montreal Expos scouting director, Jim Fanning, saw potential in him at 18 years old when Larry was playing for the Canadian team in the World Youth Championships in Saskatchewan. Fanning was in awe when Walker hit a home run with a wooden bat, mainly because all of the others players were using aluminum bats. He was signed as an amateur free agent to a contract worth $1,500, which is $3,457.9 in USD today.
In his first spring training, Walker showed right away that he was not used to the pitching. He was looking for a fastball every time and would swing at basically anything. In the New York-Penn League, an independent league team made up of rookie league prospects who got cut, Walker hit .223 with two home runs in 62 games.
After this disastrous season, Walker was sent to the Florida Instructional League to develop his game. A tough, hardworking kid, Walker wound up becoming a top prospect in the Expos’ system. As a 19-year-old in A ball, Walker hit .288, with 33 home runs. The following season, in AA, he hit .287 with 26 home runs and stole 24 bases. He struck out over 120 times in both seasons, which wound up being something Walker never did in his 17-year MLB career.
After missing the 1988 season due to reconstructive knee surgery, Walker was sent to AAA, and it was clear he was ready for the show. For a kid who barely played baseball growing up, Walker ended up alright, hitting 380 home runs and making around $110,466,931 in the big leagues.
Numbers never lie
Walker played for the Expos, Rockies and Cardinals. As an Expo, he had two seasons in which he finished in the top 15 in MVP voting. In 1994, during the strike season, Walker hit .322 with 19 home runs, a league-high 44 doubles, 86 RBIs and stole 15 bases in just 103 games. Had the season not been cut short, Walker was on pace to hit around 30 home runs, 69 doubles, 24 steals and 135 RBIs. In his six seasons in Montreal, Walker made one All-Star team and won two Gold Glove Awards and a Silver Slugger Award.
His best seasons were, by far, as a member of the Colorado Rockies. He made four of his five All-Star teams as a Rockie and was named the NL MVP in 1997. Among position players in 1997, Walker was clearly the best player in the league. He led the league in WAR at 9.8, and his stats were outlandish. In 153 games, Walker hit 49 home runs and batted .366 with a .452 OBP, a .720 SLG and a 1.172 OPS. He led the league in all of those categories except batting average, finishing second behind Tony Gwynn, who hit .372.
|Players to have a season of BA>=.365, HR>=49, OBP>=.450 and SLG>=.710||YEAR(S)|
|BABE RUTH||1920, 1921|
Players who had seasons of: BA>=.350, HR>=35, OBP>=.420 and SLG>=.600
|PLAYER||NO. OF SEASONS|
Even in his later years as a member of the St Louis Cardinals for his 37 and 38-year-old seasons, Walker continued to find success. In 144 games with the Cardinals, Walker hit .286 with 26 home runs. In 2004, in his only World Series appearance, Walker hit .357 with two home runs and three RBIs.
Seasons in the Top 10 by Statistic
|STAT||NO. OF TOP-10 APPEARANCES|
|WAR||3 (1ST in 1997)|
|Batting Average||6 (1ST in 1998, 1999, 2001)|
|OBP||6 (1ST in 1997, 1999)|
|SLG||8 (1ST in 1997,1998)|
|HR||5 (1ST in 1997)|
|OBPS||8 (1ST in 1997, 1999)|
Here are two tables to illustrate how amazing this guy was.
|PLAYERS WHO, FOR THEIR CAREERS, HAD: BA>=.310, HR>=380, OBP>=.400 and 2B>=470|
|PLAYERS WHO, FOR THEIR CAREERS, HAD: TB>=3900, OPS>=.965 and SLG>=.560|
Featured image by SI.com
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