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Despite impact, Walker's Hall of Fame support lags

Rockies outfielder earns 15.5 percent of votes
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss felt he was witnessing greatness when he was a teammate of outfielder Larry Walker. Now, with the new-age stats that go deeper than the prejudice against players who put up offensive numbers at Coors Field during Walker's era, Weiss is convinced Walker is a deserving Hall of Famer.

Alas, Walker is not moving much closer to the Hall. The announcement on Wednesday of this year's voting -- which saw Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. receive the honor, with Griffey being marked on a record 99.32 percent of the ballots (437 of 440) -- showed that Walker received 15.5 percent of the vote from the eligible voters in the Baseball Writers' Association of America. In his previous five years on the ballot, Walker received 20.3 percent, 22.9, 21.6, 10.2 and 11.8, so this year represents a slight uptick.

DENVER -- Rockies manager Walt Weiss felt he was witnessing greatness when he was a teammate of outfielder Larry Walker. Now, with the new-age stats that go deeper than the prejudice against players who put up offensive numbers at Coors Field during Walker's era, Weiss is convinced Walker is a deserving Hall of Famer.

Alas, Walker is not moving much closer to the Hall. The announcement on Wednesday of this year's voting -- which saw Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey Jr. receive the honor, with Griffey being marked on a record 99.32 percent of the ballots (437 of 440) -- showed that Walker received 15.5 percent of the vote from the eligible voters in the Baseball Writers' Association of America. In his previous five years on the ballot, Walker received 20.3 percent, 22.9, 21.6, 10.2 and 11.8, so this year represents a slight uptick.

Hall of Fame coverage

Weiss' eye test tells him Walker's career was Hall-worthy, and he is encouraged because the numbers seem to back what he saw. Weiss cited an MLB.com story that detailed how Walker's numbers compare favorably to the all-time greats even when they are adjusted for one of the biggest factors working against him -- the inflation of offensive numbers at Coors Field.

:: Griffey, Piazza make Hall of Fame ::

"I saw that article, and when you look through all those numbers and compare him to the all-time greats, he fares very well in a number of major advanced statistical categories," said Weiss, who played shortstop for Colorado as a teammate of Walker from 1994-97. "He has Hall of Fame numbers."

:: 2016 Hall of Fame ballot results ::

Debate the numbers all you want, but Weiss said Walker is still Hall-worthy because of his completeness.

"I have been vocal about this, and I said this about [current Rockies third baseman] Nolan Arenado in the MVP race last year, but other aspects of the game get overlooked when we talk about awards and the Hall of Fame," Weiss said. "Larry was the best baserunner I ever saw, and I saw Paul Molitor and Robbie Alomar. I put them up there with him, but I never saw a better baserunner -- especially his size. It's like a middle linebacker being a great running back or wide receiver. He could hit a ball to a center fielder who would get the ball before Walker rounded first base, but he'd take off for second and make it. We'd be laughing in the dugout because you'd think he'd be thrown out by 10 feet.

"And I think Andruw Jones was the best outfielder I ever saw, but Larry was right there with him. We're talking about two major facets of the game, and he was right with the best of our era, and I've heard many others say the same."

Rockies first-base coach Eric Young, who was a second baseman on the club when Walker came as a free agent in 1995 and a teammate through 1997, said conventional assessments don't fully capture Walker's impact.

"People talk about five-tool players, but Larry Walker had a sixth tool -- his baseball sense and anticipation," Young said. "He won the MVP Award in 1997, but if he weren't playing at the same time as Barry Bonds, he may have won three or four MVP Awards.

"He was a special player in all aspects of the game. He was the best at dekeing runners, hands-down. I'm sure people had done it before, but I don't remember many guys doing it before him, and he would make them pay. He also got rid of the ball so quickly. And he pushed me on the basepaths because he stole so many bases."

With the voting not trending toward induction, and with Walker having four remaining years on the ballot, the question is shifting toward how the Rockies will make sure Walker is remembered.

Weiss has invited Walker to Spring Training as a special instructor the last couple of years, and will soon extend another invite. Walker works with hitters and outfielders, and contributes during games. Unlike during the regular season, the manager and coaches often sit in folding chairs outside of the dugout. Weiss said Walker, who since retirement has spent his time with his family in Florida and hasn't worked as a full-time coach, brings insight.

"He had a sixth sense about the game -- on the pitching side Greg Maddux had it, but cerebrally and instinctively Larry was the equivalent of Maddux," Weiss said. "I enjoy when he comes back for Spring Training, and I like him sitting next to me by the on-deck circle. I get to watch the game through his eyes. He just sees things differently than most. He has a brilliant baseball mind."

Young said no matter what happens with the Hall, Rockies fans should consider Walker baseball royalty.

"We should always recognize him, and the success we had as an organization during his time as a Rockie," Young said. "When he came over in 1995 [as a free agent after standout years with the Montreal Expos], we made the playoffs. In 1996, we were the best offensive juggernaut in the history of the game. And in '97 he was MVP. I will always be grateful to have been with him, as a player, as a person and as a Colorado Rockie."

With Cooperstown a difficult proposition, the question becomes whether the Rockies come up with the lasting honor of retiring his No. 33.

The Rockies' only retired number is Todd Helton's 17. Since Walker was traded to the Cardinals in 2004 (he would play for St. Louis through 2005, when he retired), just one player has worn 33 in the regular season. Justin Morneau, a fellow British Columbia, Canada, product, who idolized Walker during his youth, wore it the last two years. Morneau is a free agent and his return is highly unlikely.

Rockies owner Dick Monfort was traveling and unavailable to address the issue Wednesday, but there is plenty of fan sentiment toward retiring the jersey.

"I like that idea, but of course that decision is made above me," Weiss said. "But I think you can tell the way I feel about the guy. He was one of the greats of our era."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page.

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

Colorado Rockies