In the early years of Larry Walker's inclusion on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, a writer who once covered Walker wrote about how much he enjoyed watching Walker's skills in action, but that he wasn't a Hall of Famer because he wasn't serious enough about the game.
A few years later, when the writer wanted to talk to Walker, he apologized for what he had written, but the damage had been done.
Walker is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the 10th and final time this year, having received a major bump in support a year ago when he was listed on 54.6 percent of the ballots, a 20.5 percent jump fro his previous high, the year before. To be inducted, Walker will need a similar swelling in support from voters this year.
But then when someone who watched him play on a regular basis can make such a silly statement, it is not surprising that those who saw only glimpses of Walker would not fully appreciate his abilities.
He didn't take the game seriously enough? Because he smiled and wasn't afraid of fans and media seeing he was having a good time? Good thing that writer never watched George Brett play. Sorry, but the fact a player is having fun and doesn't mind everyone else knowing it should be viewed as a positive.
Didn't take the game seriously enough? Perhaps that's why, despite his large frame, he willingly slid over to play center field for the Rockies at one point in his career. In fact, he was so "unserious" about the game that he broke his collarbone slamming into an outfield fence to make a catch, and he suffered other assorted ailments because of how hard he played the game.
Didn't take the game seriously enough? Because he wasn't looking to pad his stats? There was a game in Montreal in which the fans loudly booed Walker because he had left the Expos as a free agent and signed with the Rockies. What those fans didn't realize (or ignored) was the Expos never offered him a contract. He homered in each of his first three at-bats in that game. With the Rockies holding a commanding lead and his fourth at-bat approaching, he suggested the at-bat go to pinch-hitter deluxe John Vander Wal, whom he felt would benefit from an at-bat in a game situation.
Walker cared about winning, not about personal stats. But then, why would he worry about personal stats? After all, he had a career stat line that ranks among the best in MLB history.
It's unlikely Walker will make up enough ground, and that's tragic.
Here are nine reasons Walker is arguably the biggest oversight in Hall of Fame voting:
- He's one of just six players in MLB history who finished with a .300-plus average, .400-plus on-base percentage, .550-plus slugging percentage, 450 or more doubles, 60 or more triples, 350 or more homers and 1,250-plus RBIs. The other five -- Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig -- are Hall of Famers.
- Walker posted 72.6 bWAR in his career. The only position players with a WAR of 72.5 or better who are not in the Hall of Fame are Barry Bonds, Pete Rose, Bill Dahlen, Lou Whitaker and Walker.
- Bill James' Hall of Fame Monitor, which assesses how likely a player is to make the Hall of Fame, uses a rough scale in which a score of a 100 is a good possibility and a 130 is a virtual cinch. Larry Walker has a score of 148.
- Forget about the friendly hitter confines of Coors Field. Walker hit .278 on the road in his career, which is higher than 33 position players in the Hall of Fame. And among Hall of Famers whose career began in the Expansion Era (beginning in 1961), it's higher than those of Jim Rice, Tony Perez, Craig Biggio, Willie Stargell, Ken Griffey Jr., Ryne Sandberg, Reggie Jackson, Joe Morgan, Carlton Fisk, Carl Yastrzemski, Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench, Ozzie Smith and Gary Carter.
- Walker, who battled left-handed, had a career .306 average against left-handed pitching. Tony Gwynn (.324) and Rod Carew (.317) are the only left-handed hitters in the Hall of Fame who hit better than .306 against lefty pitching. No. 3 on the list is Wade Boggs at .298.
- According to Bill James' Similarity Score, the No. 1 comparison for Walker is Hall of Famer Duke Snider. No. 5 is Joe DiMaggio, 6 is Johnny Mize and 10 is Chuck Klein, all Hall of Famers.
- Walker was consistent from start to finish, posting a career batting average of .301 or better in every month during his career. He also hit .313 before the All-Star break and .313 after it.
- He could play defense, winning seven Gold Gloves. The only Hall-eligible outfielders with more than seven who aren't enshrined are Barry Bonds, Jim Edmonds, Dwight Evans and Garry Maddox. Evans is the only right fielder in that group.
- Not only did Walker win seven Gold Gloves, he was also a five-time All-Star, three-time batting champion and the 1997 NL MVP.