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Walker short in next-to-last year on HOF ballot

Former slugger receives 54.6 percent of vote; Helton gets 16.5 percent in first year of eligibility
January 22, 2019

DENVER -- Former Rockies star Larry Walker introduced himself under a different title during his conference call with Denver media on Tuesday: "Fifty-four-point-six here."That's the percentage of voters who checked Walker in his ninth year of 10 on the Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame ballot. It's a

DENVER -- Former Rockies star Larry Walker introduced himself under a different title during his conference call with Denver media on Tuesday: "Fifty-four-point-six here."
That's the percentage of voters who checked Walker in his ninth year of 10 on the Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame ballot. It's a dramatic jump from his previous high, 34.1 percent last year -- an increase of 88 votes. However, he's going to need an 87-vote leap to reach the requisite 75 percent next year, his final season of eligibility.
Complete 2019 Hall of Fame election results
Jayson Stark of the Athletic noted during MLB Network's telecast that the only player to receive a jump of at least 80 votes in successive years was former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin, who was inducted in 2012. But when publicly revealed ballots had him approaching the mid-60s in percentage, Walker admitted feeling excitement he hadn't experienced in past years.
"I haven't tuned in most years because there's been no chance of it really happening," Walker said. "It was nice to see this year, to watch and to have some excitement involved with it.
"I was on Twitter and saw the percentages that were getting put out there for me. It made it more interesting. I'm thankful to be able to go as high as I was there before the final announcement."
When discussing the vote, one must consider who else is on the ballot. Two first-timers, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera (the first unanimous inductee in the Hall's history) and the late pitcher Roy Halladay, were roundly expected to make it in. Many voters felt the desire to get Mariners longtime designated hitter Edgar Martinez in on his final try. Former Orioles and Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina, on his sixth year on the ballot, was another strong contender who had been waiting a while. Taken together, those candidates made this a difficult year for others to garner a large number of votes.
Next year, Yankees star shortstop Derek Jeter is a shoe-in, but after that, it could be argued that there are no must-vote candidates. That could help the odds for Walker, who expressed some disbelief that he has made it as far as he has in the first place.
"I grew up playing hockey," said Walker, a goalie of some renown from Maple Ridge, British Columbia. "Baseball was never on my radar until I was offered $1,500 U.S., which was two grand [Canadian, from the Montreal Expos] at the time. I couldn't wait to sign that contract, and off I went, and really learned to play the game in the Minor Leagues.
"To be sitting here talking to you about my votes that I just got on my ninth year on the Hall of Fame ballot, it's kind of surreal."
Ahead of Walker among players who didn't make it this year is right-hander Curt Schilling (60.9 percent), who had a similar career to Mussina, but has had a controversy-ridden retirement. There were also two players whose candidacies are clouded by their suspected links to performance-enhancing drug use in the 1990s and early 2000s: right-hander Roger Clemens (59.9 percent) and slugging left fielder Barry Bonds (59.1).
Walker, who spent nearly 10 years of his 17-season career with the Rockies, has his own hurdle to overcome in his quest for the Hall, as he is the first test case of how Coors Field affects voters' view of a hitter. It's something former first baseman Todd Helton -- who spent his entire 17-year career with the Rockies, and is widely considered the most beloved player in the 26-season history of the franchise -- must contend with as well. Helton appeared 16.5 percent of the ballots this year, his first of eligibility.
Prejudice against the famous hitter-friendliness of Coors seems to have tamped down Walker's total, but a look at his stats suggests that's not entirely fair. During the years comprising Walker's career (1989-2005), his Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement of 72.7 trailed only Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Jeff Bagwell; Griffey and Bagwell are in the Hall.
Walker's career OPS+ (141) -- which adjusts for park factors -- and road OPS (.865) each check in at five points better than Griffey. Walker's road OPS during his full seasons with the Rockies (not counting 2004, when he was traded to the Cardinals in August) was .899. His offensive prowess was by no means limited to Colorado.
Walker said he understands elements of the pro/con arguments about his case, including the criticism that injuries while with the Rockies reduced his availability. But he also defended the way his Coors performance impacts his career numbers.
"There are ballparks that help every player in some way or another," Walker said. "I took advantage of Coors Field as good as I possibly could, and I'm glad I did it. If I couldn't take advantage of Coors Field, I probably wouldn't be talking. The Rockies would've released me."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.