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Walker worthy of spot in Cooperstown

Former 5-tool threat shouldn't be punished for playing home games at Coors Field
MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

Just a hunch. But I bet Larry Walker's not planning any celebration for Jan. 18 -- the day the new inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced.

Walker knows better. This is his seventh time on the ballot.

Just a hunch. But I bet Larry Walker's not planning any celebration for Jan. 18 -- the day the new inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced.

Walker knows better. This is his seventh time on the ballot.

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Walker has never come close. It takes 75 percent support from the eligible voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America to be elected. His high-water point came in his second year of eligibility (2012), when he was listed on 22.9 percent of the ballots.

Go figure.

Just start with raw numbers. Walker hit .313 with 383 home runs, 1,311 RBIs, 471 doubles, 62 triples, a .965 OPS and 230 stolen bases.

Video: Walker one of the most decorated players of his era

The biggest knock has been the fact Walker spent nearly 10 seasons of his 16-year big league career playing his home games at Coors Field. He also had a history for being injured. And the silliest of all was that he didn't take the game seriously enough.

Oh, really?

The fact Walker would break a shoulder banging into the center-field fence while chasing a fly ball or pull a groin muscle running around the bases or get banged up making a diving catch despite the fact that he was built more like an NFL middle linebacker than a fleet-footed outfielder wasn't serious enough?

Oh, Walker would laugh. He had fun at the ballpark. He liked playing the game, and just like Hall of Famer George Brett, Walker wasn't afraid of letting the fans see that he enjoyed coming to work every day.

What's wrong with that?

Now, Walker wasn't one of those numbers freaks. He wouldn't calculate his batting average after every at-bat. He didn't chalk up a home run on a pole each time he went deep. He wanted to win games. He didn't care about how.

Maybe what underscored Walker as much as any incident was an April 5, 1997, game in Montreal, where the fans never forgave the Canadian native for following free agency to Colorado in the spring of '95.

The fans who filed into Olympic Stadium that day loudly hooted at every mention of Walker's name. He responded by going 4-for-5 with three home runs and five RBIs, and then walking away from a final opportunity to respond to the haters.

Video: COL@MON: Larry Walker blasts three home runs

In the top of the eighth, with a chance to hit a fourth home run, Walker suggested to manager Don Baylor that it would be a good time to get pinch-hitter deluxe John Vander Wal a couple of innings in the field and an at-bat.

"That was Larry," Baylor said. "I'm thinking, 'He's got a shot at four home runs. Those fans are all over him.' No big deal."

Walker shrugged his shoulders when the incident was mentioned.

"We're up, 15-1," said Walker.

Video: STL@COL: Walker throws out Vina at the plate

The mention of Walker benefiting from playing in Coors Field brings up a memory of sitting on the bench in Tiger Stadium with Brett prior to Game 3 of the 1984 American League Championship Series, staring at the looming right-field wall.

"Ever think of what you might have done if you played home games in this park," Brett was asked. "I probably would have been Darrell Evans, hit 400-and-some home runs and hit .250, .260," said Brett. "You have to adjust to what the ballpark offers you. The reason I hit the way I do is [Kauffman] Stadium -- the big outfield and the turf. You play half your games there."

Walker did take advantage of Coors Field, but he wasn't too shabby in other ballparks either, which surprisingly has been glossed over in an era in which statistical analysis has become such a vital part of baseball.

Start with Walker's raw numbers, and where they fit among the Hall of Famers. His .batting average, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases, OPS and doubles rank among the top 40 percent of players inducted in the Hall of Fame, including ranking 11th among Hall of Famers (and 14th all-time) in OPS and 30th in home runs.

Was Coors Field that big of a factor? It wasn't as much of an advantage as most Hall of Famers enjoyed in their home parks.

On the road, only 35 Hall of Famers had more than his 168 home runs, 63 had more than his 564 RBIs, 32 had more than his 109 stolen bases, 33 had a higher OPS than his .865, and 56 had more than his 203 doubles. Run a search for players who had career numbers that exceeded a .310 batting average, 380 home runs, 1,300 RBIs, a .965 OPS and 471 doubles, and the computer spits out five names: Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Walker.

Add 230 stolen bases to the search, and Walker is in a one-man class.

That doesn't take into consideration Walker's mastery of baserunning and his defensive genius, which did earn him seven Gold Glove Awards to go with the 1997 National League MVP Award, five All-Star selections and three Silver Slugger Awards.

For all Walker did, however, it hasn't been enough to get him into the Hall of Fame.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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