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It is Larry Walker’s final year on the Hall of Fame ballot. After achieving 54.6% of the vote on 2019’s ballot, another 20% of voters will need to be convinced to send him to Cooperstown.
While plenty of Colorado Rockies fans may try to tell you different, I am here today to let you know that Walker has not met the criteria to join baseball greats like Harold Baines in Cooperstown.
1997 was Walker’s best season and the one in which he won his only Most Valuable Player award. Walker mashed to the tune of a .366/.452/.720 batting line for the Rockies that year, which was good for a 177 wRC+. His 9.8 bWAR represented the greatest single season in Rockies history, and his 99 extra-base hits were third in team history (Todd Helton eclipsed the 100 mark twice in both 2000 and 2001). After tallying 33 stolen bases, Walker’s season became the only .700 slugging percentage/30 stolen base season in MLB history.
It was one remarkable season, but this isn’t the Hall of One MVP. Can you imagine if we let one-time MVPers like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Rickey Henderson and Lefty Grove in? As a firm #KeepTheHallSmall advocate, I believe we should only vote for legends, even if they’ve never won an MVP. Like Derek Jeter. And if you’ve only won a single MVP award, what kind of legend is that?
Reason #2: Might like hockey more than baseball
It’s no secret that Walker is a big hockey fan. I was considering giving him a pass for this, as he is Canadian after all. But does he like hockey more than baseball?
By using the advanced search feature on Twitter.com, I was able to compare Walker’s tweets about baseball on his account, @Cdnmooselips33, to his tweets about hockey. Take this tweet, for example:
Of particular interest to me was the phrase, “Hockey rules!” To see if the same sentiment was shared for the sport of baseball, I once again used Twitter’s advanced search feature to see if Walker ever used the phrase, “Baseball rules!” And here’s what I found:
The character clause in the Hall of Fame is admittedly a bit subjective, but I think it can be applied here. Walker played Major League Baseball, but if, in his opinion, “Hockey rules,” while baseball is not said to do the same, is he really the kind of example we want enshrined in the Hall?
In the above clip, Harold Reynolds of MLB Network refers to Walker as a “high-end All-Star pitcher.” Later in the clip, Reynolds continues to sing Walker’s praises and says he thinks he is worthy of being a Hall of Famer. Given that Reynolds and Walker played around the same time (Walker’s career was rising as Reynolds’ career was ending), you might think Reynolds is a good judge of Walker’s performance.
However, Walker has a total of zero innings pitched at the major league level. No other pitcher with as few innings pitched has ever been elected into the Hall of Fame. In fact, Satchel Paige had the fewest innings pitched of any pitcher inductee, and he tossed 476 frames in the major leagues (and pitched approximately one million in the Negro Leagues). This is a drastic difference. Forget being a Hall of Fame pitcher— even Reynolds’ claim that Walker is a “high-end All-Star pitcher” seems to be a stretch.
Walker has a career OPS+ of 141, which means he was 41 percent better than the average hitter over his career (1989-2005) when adjusting for external factors like a player’s home ballpark/celestial body. That mark is only the third best on this year’s ballot behind only Barry Bonds and Manny Ramírez. Over one hundred batters have been elected to the Hall with an OPS+ of lower than Walker’s.
Now, obviously, Walker was a product of Coors Field. We all know this and that’s why I didn’t even bother to include a section regarding this fact.
But when we look at his park-adjusted OPS, we find that Walker would appear to be a Hall of Fame-caliber hitter, even when removing Coors Field from the equation.
In his career, Walker slashed .313/.400/.565. If he were never to play at Coors Field, that line drops to .282/.372/.479. That’s an .851 OPS, which we can all agree is a step down from his .965 mark with Coors. Baseball-Reference tallies the numbers for all Hall of Fame batters and we find that the average OPS in the Hall of Fame is .841.
And back to that 1997 MVP season—Walker played in three fewer games on the road, but also hit nine more home runs away from Coors Field. He had a 24-point increase in slugging percentage on the road as well.
So, when we adjust for park factors, Walker is still closer to the top than the bottom among Hall of Famers. And when we remove Coors Field altogether, he’s still in the top half. It’s starting to look like he may belong in the Hall, right?
That’s where you’re wrong.
When you look at Walker’s collective career, it is physically impossible not to start hooting and hollering over the absurd level to which Coors Field inflated his numbers. What is also impossible is the coexistence of these two beliefs: that Walker is a product of Coors Field and also has Hall of Fame caliber park-adjusted and road numbers.
A Rockies’ player has never hit well on the road in the team’s 26-year history, so if you expect me to start believing a guy has Hall of Fame numbers just because it’s his last year on the ballot, you’re out of luck.
So, yes, it would certainly appear Walker was very good on the road. But as we’ve established, this is not possible for a product of Coors Field.