Walker up for enshrinement for third time
Expos, Rockies, Cards standout among top outfielders of his era
Not many Major Leaguers can claim status as a national baseball icon, a cornerstone for two franchises and a key veteran presence for a third, but Larry Walker has all that on his resume and more.
While he finished his career without a World Series ring, Walker established himself early on as one of the premier two-way right fielders in the game, a corner man's corner man with the defensive and offensive tools to be a game-changer against any opponent.
As he makes his third appearance on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, with members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America considering his candidacy leading up to a Jan. 9 announcement of this year's voting results, Walker stands as one of the most decorated players of his era.
After a solid first-year showing on the ballot in 2011, Walker gained only a few percentage points in 2012 to stand at 22.9 percent of the vote, ranking ninth among eligible candidates a year ago.
A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from Baseball Writers' Association of America members to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. An impressive list of first-year candidates joins the process in 2013 after Reds shortstop Barry Larkin became the only player elected to the Hall last year. Starting pitcher Jack Morris (66.7 percent) and first baseman Jeff Bagwell (56 percent) are the top returning vote-getters from last year's ballot.
First as a native of Canada breaking in with the Expos, then as a Most Valuable Player with the Rockies and finally with a Cardinals team that got him to his one World Series appearance, Walker provided teams with big numbers and a high level of professionalism, year in and year out.
Not only that, but his love of the game and calm intensity between the lines was infectious.
"Going out there with a group of guys and challenging nine other guys to a baseball game, there's nothing better than that," Walker said upon playing his last game in 2005.
In winning National League MVP honors in 1997, Walker's offensive performance was off the charts. The man with the powerful left-handed stroke batted .366, second in the Majors to Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn's .372, while leading the league with 49 homers and racking up 130 RBIs, a 1.172 OPS and 409 total bases.
He also won one of his seven Gold Gloves that year, and made one of his five All-Star Game appearances, finishing seven points from adding to his three NL batting titles. Walker finished his 17-year career with 383 homers, 1,311 RBIs and a batting average of .313.
Whether that all is enough to get him into Cooperstown remains to be seen, but it's certainly quite the haul for the product of Maple Ridge, British Columbia.
Before Justin Morneau and Joey Votto, there was Larry Walker -- the original star position player from Canada. He grew up a hockey goaltender, playing alongside future National Hockey League star Cam Neely, and was on the Canadian national junior baseball team when the Expos signed him as a free agent in 1984. Within five years, he was up in the Majors and part of the latest wave of Montreal's young talent -- a wave that would crest at an unfortunate time.
After a strong rookie season in 1990 and a fifth-place finish in the NL MVP voting in a breakout '92 season, Walker was among the super-talented crew of Expos turning it on deep into the summer of '94. When the season was cut short by a work stoppage, the Expos finished the year with a Majors-best 74-40 record. The club missed out on what looked like a golden opportunity to reach the World Series.
Once the work stoppage was over in 1995, Walker was shipped to the Rockies as the Expos divested their star players. He made himself right at home in Colorado, establishing a core of power hitters known as the Blake Street Bombers -- Walker, Andres Galarraga, Dante Bichette and Vinny Castilla. They made Coors Field, located on Blake Street, into an offensive fireworks show for several years and helped claim the club's first NL Wild Card berth in '95.
Walker is second only to career-long Rockies first baseman Todd Helton in virtually every statistical category in team history. Along the way, he established himself as not only an offensive threat, but one of the top right fielders of his era, using a rocket arm, just enough closing speed and some guile.
Walker parted ways with the Rockies in 2004 on a waiver deal that sent three Minor Leaguers to Colorado and a franchise icon to St. Louis. It wasn't long before the swap paid off for Walker with his lone World Series appearance -- and he went 4-for-5 with a double and a homer in his Fall Classic debut.
"This is why I accepted the trade," Walker said as the 2004 World Series began. "You want to go somewhere that you think has a chance to play late into October."
Walker and the Cardinals succumbed to the Red Sox and 86 years of history in a four-game sweep, but clearly, he'd made his mark on the postseason.
He managed to play only 100 games in 2005, his final regular season, due to a painful neck ailment he battled through as much as he could. By the end of the NL Championship Series that year, Walker was through at age 38, having left a lasting impression on the game.
"Most people know the kind of player that he has been his whole career. I mean, just a gifted, all-around everything," former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said at the time. "In fact, I think he probably would be in the top three of just about every category: baserunning, defense, handling the bat.
"What we came to learn about him, he's really an outstanding personality. I mean, guys like to spend time with him. ... We didn't know it until he was a teammate, [but] this guy is a great teammate who is a lot of fun to be around and helped keep those positive vibes that we've had ever since he's been here."