Walker Believer: Scott Rolen Leaves No Doubt, Walker is a Hall of Famer
By Bob Elliott/Canadian Baseball Network
Scott Rolen played alongside Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Jose Bautista and Joey Votto in his in 17-year career, as well as Cy Young award winners -- or top three finishers -- like Curt Schilling, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Roy Halladay and Johnny Cueto.
Rolen played 2,038 games with the Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, Toronto Blue Jays and St. Louis Cardinals.
On Aug. 6, 2004, the Cardinals acquired Walker from the Colorado Rockies becoming a teammate of Rolen for
the remainder of that season and the next.
Walker is in his 10th and final year of eligibility for Hall of Fame voting. How respected was Walker?
“Larry Walker was the best player I ever played with,” said Rolen, “I’ve seen players play -- but until they are your teammate you don’t know him. You don’t interact with him.
“I loved playing against guys like Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and Jim Bob Thome, but you never really know a guy until you are his teammate. Until you play with someone you don’t know his daily impact.”
The Rockies moved Walker to the Cardinals for Luis Martinez, Chris Narveson and Jason Burch on Aug. 6, 2004. The next day at Busch Stadium, Rolen was playing third and hitting clean up. Walker pinch hit in the seventh and two innings later was walked intentionally as Yadier Molina singled home Jim Edmonds for the 2-1 walk-off win.
“Larry Walker threw out guys when they needed to be thrown out,” said Rolen, who now helps run the Indiana University Hoosiers program. “Larry Walker ran the bases properly and he stole bases when bases needed to be stolen. Larry Walker hit the ball when we needed a hit, same as Montreal or Colorado.”
How respected was Walker?
“He was in the same division as I was when I was at Arizona and we played Colorado so often,” said Brian Butterfield, former Diamondbacks third base coach. “He could move side to side and get it airborne back toward second
base, third or home.
“I paid the price a couple of times with him in pretty big situations where you say, ‘Well, we have to go.’ He’d put the ball right on the money. I have great respect for him. There were some things about Larry Walker that had me in awe.”
One play we remember seeing which displayed Walker’s acute sense of court awareness -- or diamond awareness -- was at Olympic Stadium. The New York Mets were in town. Eddie Murray was on second. The hitter launched a scorched liner to right field. Walker pounded his glove as if he was ready to make an easy grab.
Except the ball sailed over his head. Walker turned took the one-hopper off the fence and threw into the first baseman. Rather than scoring on the ball off the wall, Murray was only able to make it to third. There he stood on the base, smiled and did that bowing motion -- we are not worthy -- Chicago Cubs fans used to do when Andre Dawson would homer his MVP year.
“I judged players the way they played the field, the way they could change the games just by running the bases,” Rolen said. “What Larry Walker did in Montreal and Colorado was ridiculous.”
What Walker did on those two stops was hit .310 in 1,806 games his first 15 years in the majors. He had 435 doubles, 57 triples, 351 homers, an on-base mark of .400 while slugging .567 for a .967 OPS.
Along the way he won three batting titles, an NL MVP -- one of three seasons he finished in the top 10 in voting, receiving votes in eight seasons -- won seven Gold Gloves, was selected to five all-star games and finished seventh in NL Rookie of the Year voting.
The knock on Walker when came Hall of Fame voting time was that he played half his games either at Coors Field in Denver. You know Denver ... where popups are sometimes known to fly all the way to
Wyoming. Ah, the total wasn’t quite half, according to Ryan Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) who figured out Walker played 69.6% games away from Denver. Walker played 604 games in Denver of the 1,988 he played in the majors.
“Players know who the Hall of Famers are,” said Rolen. “You saw Chipper Jones and you knew he was a Hall of Famer. And I saw Larry Walker and I know he was the most dominant player I ever played with.”