The Argument for Walker
Let’s get one thing straight — Larry Walker was an amazing player who truly had all five tools. On a per-game basis, he ranks among the best ever, and I have zero beef with him making it into the Hall (and I expect he will eventually). That said, I didn’t vote for him, and here’s why:
He didn’t play
Injuries dogged Walker. He walked up to the plate 8030 times in his 1,988 games across his 17-year career. That may seem like a lot, but let’s put it in the proper context by comparing him with the only two Hall of Fame hitters who started their careers after 1961 (the beginning of 162-game seasons) with fewer than Walker’s 8,030 plate appearances: catcher Mike Piazza (7,745) and outfielder Kirby Puckett (7,831).
Puckett’s excuse for the low number of plate appearances is simple: He played just 12 seasons. He certainly got the most out of those 12 seasons, though, as he played in fewer than 152 games just four times over that span and averaged 148.6 games per season. Piazza played in just one fewer season than Walker but even as a catcher managed to play in more games per season than Walker (126 for Piazza and 123 for Walker, excluding each player’s brief first season).
Piazza’s work behind the dish provides a reasonable excuse for missing time as a result of the toll donning his gear took on his body and the fact that he played nearly his entire career in the National League, so he had to either strap on the pads or sit on the pine. Walker’s spot in right field was far less taxing on a day-to-day basis, and yet he still managed fewer games per season.
Overall, Walker missed 25% of his team’s games during his career, which negatively impacted his team and his overall performance. I hate blaming a guy for missing time — there’s no evidence that he had any control over his injuries, and I’m certain he did his best to play through them — but Walker missed a such a high number of games that it impacts his overall numbers.
The Coors Effect
I’ll keep this brief, as many others have talked about this with more grace and intellect than I have, but I am of the belief that no existing popular metric can truly adjust for the hitting environment at Coors Field (particularly in its pre-humidor days). Walker was able to take full advantage of his home park in an incredible way.
I don’t want to just lazily quote numbers such as home/away OPS or something like that, so I did a little number-crunching. I compared Walker’s 162-game averages at Coors with his collective 162-game average at every other stadium where he recorded at least 100 plate appearances. Here’s a link to the spreadsheet detailing those numbers.
I realize that virtually every player tends to play better at home and that it may not be fair to penalize Walker for playing well at Coors, but it’s worth pointing out that Coors put him in legendary company, while on the road he was merely very good.
Walker probably deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. When he was in the game, be it at the plate, on the basepaths, or in the field, he was a threat to his opponents. Unfortunately, he wasn’t actually in games all that often, compared with his enshrined peers, and he was mostly a threat on one particular field. These two things, combined with the strength of recent classes, have made it difficult for me (and other people whose votes actually matter) to give him a vote. That’s a bummer but hopefully one that will be rectified before his eligibility expires.
Also, I really wanted to get Gary Sheffield on my ballot.