Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Larry Walker

Claim to fame: Walker could be the first Colorado Rockie in the Hall of Fame. In his prime, he offered Triple Crown-caliber batting, Gold Glove fielding, a rifle arm, and even impressive speed– lifetime he stole 230 bases to go with 383 home runs and a .313 career batting average. His career OPS of .965 is 16th-best all-time, and Walker even played well his only appearance in the World Series, hitting .357 with two home runs for St. Louis in 2004. Problem is, Walker spent his best years in Denver and they came at the height of the Steroid Era.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Walker becomes eligible for enshrinement in 2011 which means that the Baseball Writers Association of America will be voting on him for the first time in the next few months.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? This is going to be a tough call and part of an interesting election for newly-eligible players. Rafael Palmeiro will almost certainly be the first member of the 3,000-hit club since Paul Waner in 1952 not to get into Cooperstown on his first ballot, since he flunked a steroid test. Jeff Bagwell didn’t, but being a slugger in the Steroid Era could hurt his bid too. Larry Walker could represent something else: the first deserving player not enshrined because he played his prime years at Coors Field at the exact wrong time in baseball history.

In another era, Walker would have nothing to worry about. He’s near or above on most Hall of Fame metrics, and his career WAR of 67.3 is in line with other Cooperstown members. If he’d played in the 1930s, his stats would have placed him alongside greats like Chuck Klein, Joe DiMaggio, and Johnny Mize, and Walker would have had his plaque long ago. For some reason, even though the 1930s and the late 1990s parallel each other as two of the gaudiest eras for hitters in major league history, numbers for great hitters from the 1930s aren’t dismissed like those of sluggers from the 1990s.

Granted, there’s no doubt playing in Denver helped Walker’s career. His lifetime batting average as a Rockie of .334 is about 50 points higher than how he fared with his other two teams, the Expos and the Cardinals. In fact, the batting averages he posted between 1997 and 2002 are so out of whack with the rest of his career it’s almost comical, and the fact many ballplayers in those years may have been on everything short of horse tranquilizers doesn’t help Walker’s cause.

The reality, though, is there’s no proof Walker used steroids, and even in Montreal early in his career, he looked like something special. I recall an ESPN highlight of him gunning down Tim Wakefield at first from right field. That doesn’t happen too often. I also doubt that outside of Denver, Walker would have been much worse than fellow outfielders Duke Snider, Andre Dawson, or Jim Rice, among others. Those three men got into Cooperstown with the writers. Walker should too.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Al Oliver, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Cecil Travis, Chipper Jones, Dan Quisenberry, Dave Parker, Don Mattingly, Don Newcombe, George Steinbrenner, Jack Morris, Joe Carter, John Smoltz, Keith Hernandez, Maury Wills, Mel Harder, Pete Browning, Rocky Colavito, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson, Tim Raines

11 Replies to “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Larry Walker”

  1. The question is: If Larry Walker gets in, then does Todd Helton get in? His stats took a nose dive once the Rockies started using the on the game balls. For me, Walker would have to have hit over 400 homeruns with a .350 BA. Santo put up good stats considering he played in the 60’s facing pitchers literally throwing donwhill since the league didn’t check mound heights and many were over the 15 inch limit. If Santo isn’t in, Walker shouldn’t be in.

    1. I was careful in how I worded things saying Walker was the first Cooperstown-worthy member of the Rockies, because I figured someone would pipe up and say Todd Helton. In my eyes, they’re both Hall of Famers.

  2. I believe Walker should be in the HOF, but I don’t think he is first ballot. I’ve read and heard a lot of “facts” about Walker not being worthy because he played in the rarefied air in Denver. Fact is, he can’t help where he plays (for the most part) and he still had to play the game, hit the hits, and hit the home runs. Location or team should have nothing to do with it. The HOF has lots of members who played for crappy teams.

  3. In your recent Keith Hernandez post, you presented a table comparing the batting stats of Hernandez, Don Mattingly, and Will Clark, all outside Cooperstown, but not far outside. Despite the differences (throws right, mostly played outfield) Larry Walker could easily join that group, a left handed batter with very good, but not overwhelming, offensive stats. If added to that table, Walker would look superior to the other three, but the park effects would not be controlled for. It would be interesting to speculate about how much better any of those three first basemen might have performed had they played in Denver.

  4. Walker and Clark definitely remind me of one another, with relatively high OPS numbers, MVP-caliber seasons in their prime, and injuries curtailing their greatness. To a lesser extent, Mattingly and Hernandez are like this as well.

    Considering I’ve written these on everyone but Clark, who happens to be my all-time favorite player, I think I may have an upcoming piece on The Thrill.

  5. You’re comparing Duke Snider to Andre Dawson and Jim Rice? Really? Snider (67.5 Career WAR) is not a bad comp for Walker (67.3 Career WAR), actually, because he had almost no value in the latter half of his career while Walker just could not stay healthy, but the comparison of Snider to Rice and Dawson is way off base.

    Snider, for example, hit 40+ HR in 5 straight seasons and had WAR of 9.5, 7.7, 8.9 and 7.7 in his exceptional 4 year peak. Rice hit 40+ HR once and had a high WAR of 7. Dawson hit 40+ HR once and had a high WAR of 7.3.

    1. Hi Pat, thanks for weighing in. I didn’t consider peak performance. I just went off of Walker’s similarity scores on Baseball-Reference. Snider, Rice, and Dawson were all listed there.

  6. I guess it is just me but only a Canadian would think this guy was clean. Walker is a smart guy. Everyone was told about the upcoming test. He simple stopped doing the roids then. His last insane year was 2001, good year in 2002 as the roids wore off, nothing else the rest of his career.

  7. Walker was good at literally everything. .313/.400/.565 career hitter, 8030 PA, ridiculous peak, 1311 RBI, 383 HR, 2160 H, a great defender, has a great arm, has a good amount of baserunning value (230 SB). He has 67.3 career WAR if you use b-r and 72.2 via fg. I’ll post a fgWAR graph between Walker, Dawson, Rice, and Snider later and you’ll see Larry and Snider easily come out on top. m

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