Today’s article is a one-time exception here on Hockey Controversial—a baseball article on a hockey blog. But there’s no way I could let this occasion go by without congratulating Canada’s greatest ever baseball player, Larry Walker, on his long-awaited induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York alongside longtime Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter.
Even more amazing than the Baseball Writers’ Association of America finally waking up to the greatness of Larry Walker and making the right decision on his Hall of Fame candidacy is that it happened in his 10th and final year of eligibility. That and the fact that Walker made up unprecedented ground over the last three years of his eligibility, going from 21.9% in 2017 to 34.1% in 2018 to 54.6% last year, and finally landing on 76.6% of the vote this year (the threshold for induction is 75%). And with that, Larry Walker will finally end up where he should have been all along.
For many years it seemed as though it was just never going to happen for Walker. The writers held two major points against him: the fact that he played the majority of his career in the supposedly advantageous thin air of Denver Colorado (never mind that he only had 31% of his career at-bats there), and the fact that he missed a significant number of games throughout his career due to various injuries (375 games in total, though he played in nearly 2000).
As to their first complaint, nobody holds it against Babe Ruth that he played in Yankee Stadium—a park where the right and left field walls are just 314 and 318 feet from home plate respectively. Both the original and new Yankee Stadiums had these same dimensions, yet nobody ever complains that a significant number of Ruth’s numerous home runs there were really just glorified fly balls. They’ve done so frequently with Walker.
And then there’s the advantage to Boston Red Sox players of being able to aim at the Green Monster in Fenway Park (the high left field wall is just 310 feet from home plate) for a near unlimited supply of easy base hits. Back in the ’90s when Joe Carter was playing for the Toronto Blue Jays, he once said how much he enjoyed playing in Boston for that very reason—aim for the Monster, get a base hit. Many major league parks have their quirks and advantages. It’s not something that should ever be held against any player, otherwise why have a team in a place like Denver at all?
As for Walker’s durability, well, this is where the majority of baseball writers simply misunderstand him entirely. Sure he missed a significant number of games throughout his career, but that’s because he played considerably harder than the majority of other baseball players. While most players approach the game as ballplayers, Walker, a hockey goaltender before getting serious about baseball, approached baseball as though he were playing hockey, and that takes a toll on the body.
On one occasion in 1996 while playing for the Colorado Rockies, Walker ran so hard to chase down a fly ball off the bat of Atlanta Braves’ shortstop Jeff Blauser that he slammed into the center-field wall and broke his clavicle (collarbone). He missed several weeks recovering from the injury (not a great tradeoff for trying to record a single out), but that’s just the kind of player Walker was—the kind that goes all out all the time. Not many ballplayers are willing to pay that kind of a price on a regular basis, but Walker is Canadian, and hockey players do it all the time.
Of course, even with these perceived strikes against him, Walker’s numbers have always been Hall-worthy. His career batting average, bolstered by three National League batting titles (.363 in 1998, .379 in 1999, and .350 in 2001), stands at .313. He also finished with 2160 hits in 1988 career games, a .400 on-base percentage, a .565 slugging percentage, a .965 OPS (on-base plug slugging), 383 career home runs, 230 stolen bases, 1355 runs, 1311 RBIs, and a 72.7 WAR (Wins Above Replacement—a complex, cumulative statistic that adjusts for ballpark and other conditions to assign a value that accounts for a player’s overall contribution to his team’s success).
With a canon for an arm (Walker routinely threw out runners from right field, including several times at first base to rob batters of base hits), excellent fielding range and coverage, the ability to hit both for power and a high average, and considerable speed and great instincts on the basepaths, it’s easy to see why Walker should have been enshrined years ago—he had it all, a classic 5-tool player.
In the course of his career, Walker won three Silver Slugger Awards, seven Gold Gloves, played in five All-Star games, and was the 1997 National League MVP. That year he also led the league in home runs with 49. Although he played in the so-called rarefied air of Denver, Colorado, Walker hit 29 of his 49 home runs that year on the road.
And that is why it’s so amazing that Walker has finally broken through to baseball immortality—it should have happened years ago! His numbers have always put him there, but it often looked like the baseball writers just weren’t willing to see what was right in front of them.
I have followed Larry Walker’s career since nearly the beginning. I first learned about him early on in his tenure with the Montreal Expos (circa 1990 or ’91), and for nearly 30 years I have waited for this day to come. Back before I had a computer and the Internet, I used to walk roughly a kilometre almost every day to the local convenience store to plunk down 50¢ for a Halifax (Chronicle Herald) newspaper just to see Walker’s box stats—from two nights earlier.
Back then—and being in the Atlantic time zone, the paper would be set before the previous evening’s box scores (except for games played earlier in the afternoon) were available to print. For this reason, I was only ever fully up to date on Walker’s stats when I could catch a televised game. This opportunity became fewer and further between when Walker left the Expos and signed with the Colorado Rockies, not to mention that his games were often much later in the day from then on.
I have been a Larry Walker fan ever since I first heard his name, and today’s announcement has probably made me almost as happy as it makes him. It’s a great day for Canadian baseball fans—the Coors Field curse is finally broken, and Cooperstown is once again a legitimate Hall of Fame.
Congratulations Larry, nobody deserves this honour more than you!