Larry Walker becomes second Canadian elected to Baseball Hall of Fame

Yahoo Sports Canada

After 10 years on the ballot, needing to get 75 percent of the vote or have his name eliminated from consideration, Maple Ridge, BC’s Larry Walker is heading to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

A recipient of a late wave of support similar to that of his former Montreal Expos teammate Tim Raines, Walker saw his vote totals rise very slowly, finishing with 76.6% of the vote. It has been an unbelievable rise for Walker; in 2014 this moment seemed like a long shot, as he received just 10.2% support.

Walker’s ascent up the voting leaderboard is one of the more polarizing discussions in recent Hall of Fame voting history, with his sustained excellence clouded by the environment he produced in and a lack of true top-end moments to build his case.

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The Case For

Five All-Star game appearances, three batting titles, an MVP award, and a collection of counting stats that put him shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the game’s icons at his position.

Whether you believe he deserves to be in the Hall or not, there is nobody casting doubt that Walker possessed all the skills needed to build an ideal great baseball player.

Here is a sampling of his standing in the all-time counting stats:

  • 2,160 hits (200th all time)

  • 1,311 RBI (105th)

  • 471 doubles (89th)

  • 383 home runs (68th)

  • .313 career batting average (79th)

  • .400 on base percentage (55th)

  • .565 slugging percentage (12th)

  • .965 on base plus slugging (15th)

  • 72.7 WAR (56th among position players)

He was the 40th player to record 2,000 hits, 400 doubles, 300 home runs, 1,000 runs scored, and 1,000 RBI.

He’s the only player to have exceeded a .310 batting average, 380 home runs, 1,300 RBI, .965 OPS and 471 doubles, and 230 stolen bases in career, with Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Lou Gehrig being the only players to hit the same batting milestones without adding the stolen bases.

He is one of only 20 players to win three batting titles including the truly incredible 1999 season where he finished with a .379 average, a mark no player has achieved in the 20 years since. He posted an OPS above 1.000 seven times, and never finished with an adjusted OPS+ below league average in any year since his 20 game stint as a 20-year-old rookie. Among all players with at least 8,000 at bats, Walker’s 140 wRC+ is 34th all time.

Walker’s career crown jewel season was his 1997 MVP campaign, when he hit 49 home runs while slashing .366/.425/.720.

His 72.7 WAR (per Baseball Reference) is 10th all-time among right fielders and all nine ahead of him are hall of famers, as are three of the four on the list after him.

While none of the counting stats on their own may jump out as singularly responsible for making him a sure-fire inductee, combining his elite hitting with regular gold glove consideration and 230 steals sets the template for the prototypical five-tool corner outfielder.

All of these accolades land him on lists where the only company he keeps is with legends already enshrined in baseball’s hall.

The Case Against

Ten of Walker’s 17 seasons took place in the hitter-friendly confines of Colorado’s Coors Field, a notoriously number-juicing environment that was especially generous to batters in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

Walker had 814 of his hits in Coors Field, and posted a .381/.462/.710 slash line in the building along with 154 of his home runs. His road OPS is .865, which is still quite good — better than the all around career rates of several Hall of Fame hitters — but there are voters that cannot quite get around the 300 point drop in numbers when taken out of Colorado.

Additionally, Walker was not a paragon of health throughout his career. He only played more than 140 games in a season four times, and injuries cost him 375 games between 1996 to 2004. Eight of the nine right fielders ahead of him in WAR played at least 2,400 games, while Walker appeared in just 1,988.

He also only led his team to the postseason three times in 17 years, with two of those coming in his final two seasons as a part of the St. Louis Cardinals. There are no October moments of greatness to draw upon for rosy memories, just a consistent level of being very, very good.

His Legacy

Walker’s worthiness for baseball’s highest honour may be up for debate, but his place in Canadian baseball, certainly isn’t.

He was the first Canadian to win an MVP award, and a nine-time winner of the Tip O’Neill award for Canada’s best baseball player. After his career he continued to pay it forward for his country, serving as the hitting coach for the national team for three World Baseball Classics, and the Pan Am Games twice.

He opened the door for Canadian baseball talent and ushered in a wave of stars from Canada that followed him into the league. Justin Morneau and Joey Votto followed in his footsteps as MVP award winners, and in the decade and a half following Walker’s retirement players from Canada made their way to the league in unprecedented numbers.

Ferguson Jenkins was the first Canadian to make the Baseball Hall of Fame, and Walker’s outsized presence in the game has ensured that he won’t be the last.

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