Denver’s Coors Field puts baseball in a humidor these days. It also holds Larry Walker’s Hall of Fame chances in its own prison.
For the second year, Walker is on the ballot. He got 118 votes last year, which was 20.1 percent of the total. You need 75 percent to make it to Cooperstown, and Walker has 14 years to reach that.
“My goal was to get three votes, so I was happy,” Walker said. “I can’t describe the thrill of being on the ballot. But then I couldn’t describe the thrill of seeing my name on a major league lineup card.”
But if Walker, 45, gets to 59 without passing through the golden door, he’ll be less than thrilled with the description of himself as a Mile High specialist.
There is always someone like Walker on the HOF ballot, a name that stops you cold before it sends you running into the numbers orchard.
They’d be writing Irish drinking songs about him in Boston; they’d be drawing up HOF petitions the length of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.
Walker’s career slugging percentage of .5652 is 13th best in baseball history, surpassing Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle. There were a couple of years there when Walker was baseball’s best player. He won three batting titles and led the NL in on-base and slugging twice apiece. In 1997, when he was the MVP, he had 49 homers, slugged .720, hit .366 and stole 33 bases.
Walker was a seven-time Gold Glover with the best right-field arm in the game and adjourned his career with 383 home runs, a .313 batting average and 2,160 hits.
But he will have to convert the disbelievers between now and 2025, and most of them will use Coors Field as their smoking gun.
Walker’s home/road splits as a Rockie are lopsided indeed. The exception was 1997, when he hit more home runs and had a better slugging percentage outside Coors.
But in 1995 he slugged .730 at home and .484 away. In ’98, ’99 and ’01 his batting average was more than 100 points better at Coors, his slugging percentage was at least 227 points higher, and he hit a combined 63 homers at Denver and 38 elsewhere.
That’s a pronounced difference. But then Don Drysdale was only 95-92 on the road, with a 3.41 road ERA as opposed to 2.53 at home, and he’s in.
“It is what it is,” Walker said. “Ballplayers have always taken advantage of their surroundings. The first time I saw the right-field fence in Detroit, it looked like I could kick the ball over it.”
Coors’ outfield had large gaps, which Walker exploited with all those doubles. But it also challenged outfielders, and that played into Walker’s hand, and arm. And, yeah, it was still 90 feet between first and second, when Walker had all those steals.
Walker also enriched his clubhouses. In 1994 at Dodger Stadium, he caught a foul ball and handed it to Sebastian Napier, a 9-year-old fan.
Then he wondered why the Dodgers kept running the bases. Oops – two outs.
“Let me borrow that for a minute,” Walker told the kid, taking the ball back and throwing it home.
When the media entered the Montreal room, Walker was waiting; “Dah-dah-dah! Dah-dah-dah!” he yelled, invoking the ESPN theme. “They’ll be showing highlights of that in Ethiopia.”
He’ll have some time to polish the speech. If Walker is feeling particularly mischievous that day, he’ll deliver it on stilts.
“I can’t even tell you what it would mean to be in the Hall of Fame,” Walker said.