Final time's the charm: Walker elected to HOF

Rockies great appears on 76% of ballots, jumping 22% from last year

January 22nd, 2020

DENVER -- Statistics never really captured , especially during the 10 years of his career he spent with the Rockies in a hitter-friendly but difficult-to-measure atmosphere.

Ultimately, the numbers simply could not hold him back.

In his final year on the ballot, Walker was elected to the Hall of Fame on Tuesday -- joining Yankees legend Derek Jeter in the Class of 2020 -- by appearing on 76.6 percent of the ballots from Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters. His 22-percent climb from 2019 represents the biggest increase by any player in his last year of BBWAA eligibility in 65 years, and in the end he cleared the threshold by six votes.

Walker’s time with the Rockies (1995-2004) was bookended by six seasons with the Montreal Expos (1989-94) and one-plus with the Cardinals (end of 2004 and '05). In addition to Jeter and Walker, catcher Ted Simmons and former MLB Players Association director Marvin Miller were both elected by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in December.

Always as quick with the quip as he was with the bat, legs and right arm on the field, Walker joked about being the lesser-known of the Hall of Famers announced Tuesday. Jeter fell one vote shy of unanimous.

“Remember those old 45’s we used to listen to -- they had the song on the A side, and the song on the B side you really didn’t know about?” Walker told MLB Network. “I’m the B side.”

Earlier in the day, Walker tweeted that he did not expect to make it, saying in part, “I believe I’m going to come up a little short today.”

He was wrong. Jack O’Connell, president of the BBWAA, informed Walker by phone: “I’m calling to let you know that you did not fall short this time.”

After receiving just 10.2 percent of the vote in his fourth year on the ballot in 2014, Walker became the first BBWAA electee who received less than 12 percent in any election during his candidacy since Bob Lemon (elected 1976), who received 11.9 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility (1964).

Walker’s candidacy became a vociferous back-and-forth. Forces on one side penalized him for his glowing stats at Coors Field. Defenders used modern statistical formulas to eliminate the prejudice, explaining that the home advantages led to extreme road disadvantages and noting that he was never linked to the performance-enhancing drug controversies of the era.

But those arguments are now over. A Rockies franchise that will be in its 28th season by the time of this summer’s induction ceremony will finally have one of its legends honored. In fact, Walker will be the first Hall of Famer to have ever played a game for the club.

Walker being elected could help lift some of the Coors Field stigma from former first baseman Todd Helton, who spent his entire 17-year career (1997-2013) with the Rockies. Helton’s votes surged from 16.5 percent last year, his first on the ballot, to 29.2 percent.

“The year I won MVP (1997), I thought it was a great thing for Colorado Rockies players, as well, to take away that mess of playing there and all the negatives that go into it,” Walker said. “Obviously, he’s very Hall of Fame worthy. [Current Rockies third baseman Nolan] Arenado, where he’s going with his career, is very Hall of Fame worthy.

“I get the arguments. Trust me, I’ve heard them all. I’ve heard the good things, I’ve heard the bad things. I’m OK with both of them. There’s negativity to everything. I’m good taking it. I can handle it. I’m a big boy and I can take all that stuff. But 76.6 percent of the writers didn’t think that way, so I’m as grateful as I can be.”

Rockies owner, chairman and CEO Dick Monfort said in the club's official statement, “I know I speak for the whole Rocky Mountain Region in congratulating Larry for his election into the Hall of Fame. Larry blessed our region for parts of 10 seasons and we feel extremely fortunate to be a part of his incredible career. Congrats, Larry.”

And it’s significant for an entire country as well.

A native of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Walker joins former pitching great Ferguson Jenkins as the only players born in Canada so honored.

“As a Canadian, it was a proud moment for me to represent my country and be able to join Ferguson Jenkins in the Hall of Fame,” Walker said.

Those who saw him play appreciate what he represented as not only one of the most dynamic players of his era, but a person gifted at almost everything with a mind and personality to match.

“He was part-magician, part-Superman” said Braves bench coach Walt Weiss, who was a teammate of Walker’s on the Rockies and who brought him in as a Spring Training instructor when he managed in Colorado.

“The game has never really had a perfect player,” said Dante Bichette, a teammate from 1995-99. “But if they ever do have a perfect player, it’s going to be in the mode of Larry Walker.”

There are stats, of course. One doesn’t get in without them.

In 17 seasons, Walker slashed .313/.400/.565. He had 383 home runs and 1,311 RBIs in 1,988 games, as well as 230 stolen bases in an era when running was the province of smaller guys, not those of his build. There was also 1997’s National League MVP Award, three batting titles and seven Gold Gloves.

Behind all of those numbers is a big fellow with a low, rumbling voice and an easy sense of humor that says “one of the guys.”

There was a humanity in forgetting the number of outs and handing a live ball to a young fan, like he did once while with the Expos; or moving from the left-handed batter’s box to the right after (now fellow) Hall of Famer Randy Johnson buzzed his tower in the All-Star Game; or, when he was in the Minors, cutting from third back to first without retracing his steps back to second base. There was humility to purporting himself as a see-ball-hit-ball kind of guy.

And who knows? Maybe not being an outwardly Type A personality and playing in a small market with few postseason appearances hurt him with voters in the long run. But those who knew Walker at his career peak say his knowledge about the game was hard to match.

His mastery of right field may best lay out what made Walker unique. Walker was the game’s greatest practitioner of the deke -- faking as if he could easily catch a ball he had no chance at in order to fool baserunners. Runners at second base who should have scored on fly balls off the right-field wall often only made it as far as third after being fooled by Walker’s fake and intimidated by his arm.

“It was one of the things I hadn’t seen in the game,” said Giants special assistant Ellis Burks, who played center for the Rockies at the time and marveled at the player over in right. “Then you’d see other players doing it.”

Eric Young, now the Braves’ first-base coach, said Walker quietly challenged his teammates -- good naturedly, but pointedly. Once, Young, then the Rockies’ leadoff hitter, popped out on the first pitch of the first inning against an unfamiliar pitcher.

“I came in the dugout, put my helmet up,” Young recalled. “Larry comes up and goes, ‘Hey, E.Y.! What he got?’ And turned his head. And I looked and I shook my head like, ‘Point taken.’

“Then he came to me and said, ‘You are the spark plug. You are the one sometimes in that first at-bat that’s going to sacrifice for all of us. So if we don’t know that young pitcher, at least give us an indication so we can go up there and tattoo him in that first inning, or eventually we will get to him.’ That resonated with me my whole career.”

Burks said Walker studied way more video and scouting information than most of his teammates were aware.

“He didn’t need a computer to break down the game,” Burks said. “He knew the game. That’s how sharp he was. At times, sometimes you’d see him look aloof, like he didn’t know what was going on. He knew what was going on every minute of that game.”

Bichette noted, “The best way to tell good instincts of a ballplayer is how he runs the bases. He was always making the right moves. He would be running to third and looking at the right fielder with both eyes -- it seemed the play was always in front of him when it was behind him. He was that aware.”

Weiss, who as a player would carpool with Walker to Coors Field, called him the position player equivalent of Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux -- someone who saw the game in unique ways.

“This was something I never heard anybody say: When the ball was hit down the line and he was in right field, he’d say he didn’t watch the ball,” Weiss said. “He’d watch the hitter, and that would tell him, first of all, whether the ball was going to be fair or foul. He would also watch the baserunners on balls hit in the gap or down the line, instead of watching the ball. So he knew exactly where they were going to be and where he had to throw the ball.”

Weiss recalls Walker sitting with him during Spring Training games, correctly figuring out pitch patterns and strategy even though he had not seen many of the players before. How did Walker, who aspired to be a hockey goalie before trading his mask for a batting helmet at 16, become such a baseball intellectual that the Canadian National Team relies on him as a coach?

“The biggest thing for my whole career is that thing between your ears -- mentally -- I was able to beat the game at a young age, and I carried that with me,” Walker said.

There was also a competitive spirit that showed in ways that keep his former teammates telling old stories.

Silly little pass-the-time challenges that seemed impossible were first-try successes for Walker. For example, using a fungo (batting practice bat) to hit a ball off the inner roof of the Astrodome was supposed to be impossible.

“So we got a group of five or six, trying to hit the roof at its highest point; nobody could do it,” Weiss said. “Larry sees them, goes over there and first swing hits the ball off the roof.”

Burks recalls a time the Rockies arrived in St. Louis and players immediately headed to a riverboat casino but cut out early because of a game the next day. But Walker was on a tremendous roll.

“We get to the ballpark the next day and Larry is in his same clothes that he wore on the road trip to St. Louis and he’s laying on the trainer’s table, sleeping,” Burks said. “So obviously he stayed up all night, gambling. And he won a lot of money, too. Let me put that out there.

“He’s in the lineup. So the guy goes out and has a big day.”

On Tuesday, Walker cashed in on baseball immortality.

Derek Jeter: 396 votes (99.7 percent) -- 1st year on ballot

Larry Walker: 304 (76.6) -- 10th

Curt Schilling: 278 (70.0) -- 8th

Roger Clemens: 242 (61.0) -- 8th

Barry Bonds: 241 (60.7) -- 8th

Omar Vizquel: 209 (52.6) -- 3rd

Scott Rolen: 140 (35.3) -- 3rd

Billy Wagner: 126 (31.7) -- 5th

Gary Sheffield: 121 (30.5) -- 6th

Todd Helton: 116 (29.2) -- 2nd

Manny Ramírez: 112 (28.2) -- 4th

Jeff Kent: 109 (27.5) -- 7th

Andruw Jones: 77 (19.4) -- 3rd

Sammy Sosa: 55 (13.9) -- 8th

Andy Pettitte: 45 (11.3) -- 2nd

Bobby Abreu: 22 (5.5) -- 1st


(Players receiving less than 5% will drop off future ballots)

Paul Konerko: 10 (2.5) -- 1st

Jason Giambi: 6 (1.5) -- 1st

Alfonso Soriano: 6 (1.5) -- 1st

Eric Chávez: 2 (0.5) -- 1st

Cliff Lee: 2 (0.5) -- 1st

Adam Dunn: 1 (0.3) -- 1st

Brad Penny: 1 (0.3) -- 1st

Raúl Ibañez: 1 (0.3) -- 1st

J.J. Putz: 1 (0.3) -- 1st

Josh Beckett: 0 -- 1st

Heath Bell: 0 -- 1st

Chone Figgins: 0 -- 1st

Rafael Furcal: 0 -- 1st

Carlos Peña: 0 -- 1st

Brian Roberts: 0 -- 1st

José Valverde: 0 -- 1st