Hall of Fame Debate: Larry Walker (Pro Argument)

This post reflects my (OCP) views on the Hall of Fame candidacy of Larry Walker and specifically why I think that Walker belongs in the MLB Hall of Fame. I anticipate that some of my colleagues and our readers will disagree with my sentiment.

I think that Larry Walker is a player that is often mislabeled as a one dimensional player. His burly name (with a name like Larry Walker, you have to be tough) and the impression that he left behind in his later and slower years, coupled with his home run proficiency leads many casual fans to ascertain that he was a home run hitting outfielder. The truth is, Larry Walker was a rare breed five-tool player. He had a great eye at the dish, he hit for contact, he hit for power, he ran the bases well and he had great range. Oh yeah, and he had one of the strongest arms in right field that the game has ever seen. In order to convey why I think Walker is worthy of enshrinement, I am going to focus on his overall value. His value needs to be measured based on his total contributions to his team, not just his hitting.

If you are willing to measure Larry Walker based on his offensive numbers alone, he probably comes up short because of the Coors Factor but Walker was much more than a bat-smith and as much as Coors helped him at the plate, playing the outfield at Coors is no simple task (Coors Field boasts the largest outfield in Major League Baseball, meaning there is much more ground to cover). He was a seven-time Gold Glove winner, a prolific run scorer and a run producer. His 162 game averages are remarkable; he stole 19 bases, scored 110 runs and 107 RBI per 162. He ranks in the top 100 for his career in too many categories to list... runs scored, doubles, WAR, defensive WAR, total bases, hit by pitches, OPS, adjusted OPS (adjusted for player ballpark), putouts as a RF, assists as a RF, range factor, fielding percentage... the guy was an all-around stud. I always looked at Larry Walker as one of those guys that was supremely competitive. He was intense and confident but there was no doubt that he was willing to do whatever the team needed to win. He was often overshadowed by Bonds and company but the guy did his job every day and was almost always the best all-around player on the field. I liken him to Craig Biggio with pop. Biggio had the luxury of consistent health but Walker was right there with him in terms of overall value to his team. Had Walker been able to stay healthy, he would have been much closer to the 3,000 hit mark that so many casual fans associate with Hall of Fame enshrinement. To be fair, there are plenty of guys already in Cooperstown with fewer hits than Walker (Duke Snider, Bill Mazeroski and Johnny Mize, to name a few).

He also came up huge on the big stage, hitting 6 home runs in the 2004 postseason (2 in each of the NLDS, NLCS and WS rounds). He won a well deserved MVP in 2004, posting a triple slash line of .366/.452/.720. For his career, he hit .313/.400/.565, one of 17 players in baseball history in the 3-4-5 club (+.300 BA, +.400 OBP, +.500 SLG). Of those 17, only Walker, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Lefty O'Doul, Edgar Martinez and Manny Ramirez are not enshrined in Cooperstown.

The argument against Walker revolves around his home and away splits. I'm not saying that Walker is the greatest right fielder of all time (even though his cumulative body of works suggests that you could make an argument - 16th all-time OPS and multiple Gold Gloves); Walker benefited from Coors as much as anyone and I get that. He was able to hit more home runs and doubles than he would have elsewhere but consider this, in his MVP season (1997), Walker hit .346 on the road while smashing 29 home runs (compared to his .386 mark at home to go along with 20 HR). He was a great ball player in every park, not just Coors. I think that his full body of work suggests that he was better than some notable right fielders already enshrined; Jim Rice and Willie Stargell, come to mind. And given the fact that the voters were able to overlook the fact that Mel Ott hit 140 more home runs at home, on the Polo Grounds where the RF porch was only 258 feet, I think you can overlook the ballpark that Walker played in, at least to some extent and give him the respect he deserves.

1 comment:

  1. I liken him more to Philly's own Chuck Klein. Klein played at the Baker Bowl where the right field fence was 250 feet away, it might have been even shorter than that. Klein had a 5 years stretch that his numbers match up with anybody's in that 5 year period. Being a left handed hitter, he took advantage of that. Traded to the Cubs still in his prime he didn't come close to putting up the same numbers. Now Klein was eventually put in the hall by the veterans committee. I think that may be how Walker might get in, but I don't see him getting elected in.


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