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Larry Walker went from undrafted Canadian high schooler to three-time National League batting champ.  It’s an anomaly that a young player, given the extensive scouting network, goes unnoticed in the draft, but that was what happened with Walker.  He became a star in Montreal and something close to a legend in Colorado, but like other stars before him, Larry wasn’t the most durable fellow.  Only once in his career did he appear in 150 games and had just four 140+ appearance seasons.

Walker got his first taste in the Majors with a brief callup in 1989 with the Expos.  The following year, the native Canadian became an everyday player and finished seventh in Rookie of the Year voting behind such notables as David Justice, Delino DeShields, Todd Zeile and Marquis Grissom.  With Delino and Marquis, Walker gave the Expos three young stars to build around. 

Larry’s first real good year came in 1991 when he hit .291 and tallied 30 two-baggers–he was the only Montreal player with at least 30 doubles.  He reached the .300 plateau for the first time in 1992, made the first of five All-Star squads, won the first of seven Gold Gloves and led NL right fielders in runs scored and slugging average (he was the only NL right fielder to slug over .500).  Many pundits criticize Walker as a Colorado-inflated player, but fail to realize that he was a star in Montreal before venturing to the Mile High State.

A great speed/power combo guy, Walker seemed to lack a weakness.  He could hit for both power and average, was a sensational defender and put up lofty on-base numbers.  In 1993, Larry was a member of the 20 HR/20 SB Club, but his real breakout year came in the strike shortened 1994 campaign.  That year, his last in Montreal, Larry led the National League with 44 doubles.  He had a terrific offensive line of .322 BA/.394 OBP/.597 SA.

Since Walker had become a legit star, he was too pricy for the penny-pinching Expos who let the Canadian walk via free agency.  Larry signed with the Rockies where he would become one of the greatest hitters of his generation.  In his first year with the Rockies, he blasted 36 homeruns, had his first 100 RBI season and lifted his slugging average up to a terrific .607.  His ’96 season was lost to injury but when he came back, he posted three straight seasons of batting averages above .360 and on-base percentages above .445. 

Named the NL MVP in 1997, Walker led the senior circuit in homeruns, on-base percentage, slugging average (.720) and total bases (409).  He also scored 145 runs and banged out 208 hits on a .366 batting average.  Although his batting average fell three points in 1998, he however won his first batting title with a .363 mark.  Named to the National League All-Star team once again, Walker, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa were the only National League outfielders to slug over .600.

The Rockies had the most potent offense in the late 1990s.  Walker, Todd Helton and Dante Bichette all had 100+ runs scored and RBI in 1999, but the Rockies weren’t contenders thanks to one of the worst pitching staffs in recent memory.  The team ERA was 6.01.  Despite the inept mound corps, Walker won his second batting title with a .379 batting average and also topped the circuit in OBP (.458) and SA (.710). 

But for all Walker’s on-field exploits, he had a glaring weakness: his health.  He missed half of the 2000 season to injury.  But when healthy, there were few better than him.  Back to his old ways in 2001, Larry won his third batting title–his third in four years–with a robust .350 mark.  A gifted all-round talent, Larry legged out 35 doubles, blasted 38 homers, drove in 123 runs and posted a .449 on-base percentage–a God-like percentage for most players but just typical Larry Walker.

He won his final Gold Glove in 2002; a year in which he led National League right fielders in both batting average and slugging average.  The aging slugger’s batting average finally fell to earth in 2003 when he hit .284 at the age of 36.  For all Walker’s accomplishments, he only played one season in which he saw postseason action, 1995, and the Rockies were quickly dispatched in the Division Series.  But in 2004, St. Louis was in need of some thunder so they sent three prospects to the Rockies and Larry made his way back to the postseason.  He blasted two homeruns in the 2004 NLCS against the Astros and helped the Redbirds reach the World Series.  The Boston Red Sox made short work of the Redbirds as Larry hit two homers in the Fall Classic–the only two dingers St. Louis, as a team, hit.  He played one final year with the Cardinals before calling it quits.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,988/R 1,355/H 2,160/2B 471/3B 62/HR 383/RBI 1,311/SB 230/BB 913/SO 1,231/BA .313/SA .565/OBP .400

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The votes by the Veteran’s Committee are in and Pat Gillick, former Major League general manager, was the only person selected to join the Hall of Fame.  His most notable hour was building the first ever World Champion team residing outside the USA when he led the Blue Jays in the early 1990s.  His greatest swap as the dictator of the Jays was when he nabbed Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter from the Padres.  Alomar became the best second baseman in the American League and Joe Carter was a World Series hero in Toronto. 

Those snubbed by the Hall of Fame were George Steinbrenner, who many thought would get in but The Boss, despite a recurring role on America’s hit sitcom Seinfeld, didn’t get the necessary votes.  His on-again-off-again skipper, Billy Martin, also failed to reach the 75% needed for enshrinement.  Of the 16 member judging panel, a person needed 12 votes to make the HOF with Gillick garnering 13 votes and Marvin Miller coming in second with 11–one shy of election.  But I applaud the Miller snub… more on that later.

Of the former players, Dave Concepcion received the most votes with eight, which shouldn’t come as a shock given his fishing buddies on the judging panel.  It’s close to impossible to  justify the fact that Concepcion received more votes than Ted Simmons, but Simba has been denied his rightful place in the Hall once again.  Bench beat the drum for Concepcion while no one championed Simmons.  Bench, who was on the judging panel with fellow Reds player Tony Perez, said “had I not been there, I don’t think Davey would have gotten a quarter of the votes.”  The Veteran’s committee has made numerous mistakes, in the name of cronyism, by allowing their judging panel to usher in inferior players who they liked while casting cold shoulders to better players.  Dave Concepcion may be a legit Hall of Fame candidate, but his candidacy is wanting when compared to Simba.

As for Marvin Miller, there are plenty people who feel he has done more to destroy the game of baseball than to help it.  There is no doubt the players have benefited from the union magnate, but everyone else has suffered due to his intrusion in our beloved game.  Because of Miller, parity in baseball, if it ever existed in the first place, is dead and will never be attained again.  The divide between the haves and the have-nots is like a canyon that cannot be crossed.  The haves will build the strong teams by paying the free agents that the have-nots can no longer afford.  Fans see, every year, many of their favorite players leave for greener pastures (or wallets) because their hometown team can’t afford to play big-money ball with the NY and LA based teams.  Baseball is in a bad way and many fingers point to Marvin Miller as the reason for its current, excessive division.

After the votes were tallied, the cantankerous, egotistical fool that is Marvin Miller claimed that “the baseball Hall of Fame’s vote hardly qualifies as a news story.  It is repetitively negative, easy to forecast and therefore boring.  It is an amusing anomaly that the Hall of Fame has made me famous by keeping me out.”  Clearly, humility is not Marvin Miller’s strong suit.  The doors to the HOF should forever remain shut to this “man” who has no respect for the game or any of its institutions.  I would encourage the “man” to grow up, but he was born before the Truman administration, so all hope of him ever gaining a sense of humility is lost to the breeze.  As for his charge that the Hall of Fame induction is “negative,” he should look to past inductions when Ted Williams called for the Hall to open its doors to Negro League players.  He should look to Joe Gordon’s daughter who got to recount her long deceased father’s life on a national scale.  Miller should read about the heartfelt induction speech given by an aging Elmer Flick who was so overcome with emotion he couldn’t keep from letting the tears flow from his 80-plus-year-old eyes.  He should remember Buck O’Neil’s terrific speech when many of his fellow Negro League players and execs were inducted but he was snubbed, leading the fans in attendance in a quick song that only Buck had the knack for. 

You find all this “negative,” do you Marvin Miller?  All that I find negative about today’s election is your criticism of it.  May the doors to the Hall of Fame always remain locked to you!

A terrific workhorse pitcher who had two Top Three finishes in Cy Young Award voting but never netted the elusive hardware, Kevin Brown always had a terrific WHIP thanks to his great accuracy and good strikeout numbers.  Once the highest paid player in baseball, Brown was a former 20-game-winner, six-time All-Star and ended his career with a winning percentage just under .600. 

The fourth overall pick in the 1986 draft by the Texas Rangers, Brown joined the Texas staff that year with one spot start.  Texas didn’t call him back up to the Majors again until 1988 and he didn’t stick at the highest level until 1989.  In that year, Kevin posted a tidy 3.35 ERA in a rotation that featured two ageless hurlers: Nolan Ryan and Charlie Hough, and another young fireballer named Bobby Witt.  The jury was out on who would be the best pitcher of Texas’ two young studs: Brown or Witt.

After a decent 1990 season, Brown took a step backward in 1991 but he was the least of the Rangers’ problems.  His fellow top prospect Bobby Witt forgot how to throw strikes and his ERA ballooned above 6.00, which enabled Brown to secure himself, albeit by default, as the successor to the Ryan Express.  His breakout year came that following season when he posted his only 20-win season.  Named to his first All-Star team in 1992, Kevin led the AL in innings pitched and wins.

Brown won 15 games and tied for second in shutouts in 1993.  The strike shortened 1994 season was an abysmal campaign for Brown who coughed up 218 hits in just 170 innings.  After that less-than-stellar display, Texas gave up on Kevin.  He would not have another season with more hits allowed than innings worked until 2002.  He spent one ho-hum year with the Orioles before establishing himself as an elite starter with the 1996 Florida Marlins.

The 1996 season was Brown at the top of his game.  Named to his second All-Star team, the star right-hander led the NL in ERA (1.89) shutouts and WHIP (0.944).  Kevin won 17 games for the Fish, fanned 159 batters opposed to just 33 walks and was the most difficult pitcher in the NL to hit a homerun off of.  Although Brown was at the top of his game in 1996, the Marlins were at the top of theirs in 1997 when they were crowned World Series champions.  Kevin went 16-7 during the ’97 season and fanned 205 batters.  The highpoint of the season for him came in the deciding game of the NLCS when he outdueled Atlanta’s southpaw Tom Glavine to send Florida to the World Series.

The Marlins began their fire sale shortly after measuring their fingers for their World Series rings.  Before Christmas in 1997, Brown was traded to the Padres for first base prospect Derrek Lee.  All he did in southern California was pitch San Diego to their first World Series since 1984.  An All-Star for the 1998 Padres, Kevin finished third in Cy Young voting while going 18-7 for the Friars.  Terrific all year, he fanned a career high 257 batters while issuing just 49 walks.  The Astros of Bagwell and Biggio couldn’t touch him in the Division Series as he posted a 0.61 ERA while carrying the Padres to the World Series, where they were run over by the Yankees.

But the Dodgers saw enough in Brown to make him the game’s highest paid player when he hit free agency after the 1998 season.  The Dodgers loosed the purse strings and brought Brown to LA for the 1999 season.  The right-hander didn’t disappoint.  His first year in Los Angeles, Kevin won 18 games and averaged 0.833 hits per inning–superior to stars Curt Schilling (0.883) and Tom Glavine (1.107).  In 2000 he led the NL in ERA as well as strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.60) and WHIP (0.991).  But almost half of his starts were no decisions. 

Brown spent some time on the shelf in both 2001 and 2002 before rebounding with a strong, healthy season in 2003.  Brown made his last All-Star team that year with a stellar 2.39 ERA.  The Yankees disregarded his recent injury history and traded Jeff Weaver and Yhency Brazoban to get him for the 2004 season.  He made 22 starts for the Yankees during the regular season but wasn’t healthy enough to take his turn during the postseason.  He ended his career after a forgettable 2005 season.

THE NUMBERS

W 211/L 144/PCT .594/ERA 3.28/G 486/CG 72/SHO 17/IP 3,256/H 3,079/BB 901/SO 2,397

A man of many uniforms, Todd Zeile played for eleven teams over the course of his career.  The power-hitting third baseman set a record–since tied by Matt Stairs–for hitting homers with the highest number of teams.  Although he was well-travelled, Todd Zeile was a valuable run producer who drove in over 1,100 runs.

Originally drafted in the second round of the 1986 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, Zeile was groomed as a catcher.  The Redbirds had Tony Pena behind the dish when they first called up Todd but his youthful presence allowed the Redbirds to let Pena leave after the 1989 season.  The Cardinals then inserted Todd as their regular catcher in 1990 and he finished sixth in Rookie of the Year voting.  As a freshman, Zeile already showcased his solid power by leading NL receivers in homeruns.

But Zeile didn’t last long as a backstop.  In 1991, the Cardinals converted him to the hot corner and he led National League third basemen in doubles that year.  After a down year in ’92, Todd rebounded in 1993 with his best RBI total.  That year Todd and Matt Williams were the only third basemen in the Major Leagues to drive in 100 runs.  In the strike shortened 1994 season, Todd clubbed 19 homeruns.  Then, the travelling began.

Todd learned to keep his suitcases packed when the Cardinals traded him to division rival Chicago Cubs during the 1995 season for pitcher Mike Morgan–the only pitcher in baseball history to wear more uniforms than Todd.  After the year he signed a free agent deal with the Phillies but was sent in a trade to the Orioles, with slugger Pete Incaviglia, and was able to take part in his first postseason.  The mark of a champion is often gauged by his October success and Zeile was a postseason star.  In the 1996 ALCS, Todd launched three homeruns with a .364 batting average, but in a losing cause. 

After the season Todd signed a free agent deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and set a career high with 31 homeruns.  During the ’98 season he was involved in the biggest trade of the year when LA sent him and future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza to the Marlins for Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich and Charles Johnson.  The Marlins quickly unloaded Zeile to Texas for prospects.  With the Rangers, Todd got back to postseason play.  He hit .333 in the ’98 ALCS.  Texas was embarrassed in the series as Todd was the only Ranger regular to hit over .222.

From 1996 to 1998, Todd played for five teams.  Able to breathe a sigh of relief, Texas retained him in 1999 as he didn’t have to worry about packing his suitcases that year.  Zeile had one of his best years in 1999 when he hit .293 and led American League third basemen with 41 doubles.  He joined the Mets in 2000 and was able to play in his only World Series.  Zeile’s hot October bat carried New York to the Fall Classic as he led all NLCS participants with eight RBI.  Just like his days in Texas, Todd seemed to be the only player on the roster able to hit in the cool October weather.  In the 2000 World Series, Todd hit a robust .400 but the Mets hit a combined .229 and lost to the Yankees.

Zeile played one more year with the Mets before moving off to Colorado.  In his last good year, Todd hit 18 homers with 87 RBI for the 2002 Rockies.  He used that season to sign a free agent deal with the Yankees where his career began to slide.  He finished up his playing days with the 2004 Mets.

THE NUMBERS

G 2,158/R 986/H 2,004/2B 397/3B 23/HR 253/RBI 1,110/SB 53/BB 945/SO 1,279/BA .265/SA .423/OBP .346

The versatile ballplayer is an asset for any team.  Few men in the history of the game were as versatile as Cesar Tovar.  Cesar could wear so many hats that he once played every single position in a contest–the second player in Baseball history to accomplish the feat.  But Tovar was more than just a guy with many gloves–he was a speedy league leader who once topped the AL in hits, doubles and triples.

Tovar came into professional baseball by accident.  A native of Venezuela, Reds GM Gabe Paul was scouting Gus Gil when Gil asked Paul to take a look at his buddy Cesar Tovar.  Paul signed the duo on the spot.  Although Tovar was signed by the Reds, he would make his Major League debut with the Twins.  After the 1964 season, the Twins sent Gerry Arrigo to the Reds to obtain Tovar.  He only played in 18 games for the Twins in 1965 but by 1966, he was a regular… but a regular under a loose definition of the term.

The Twins employed Tovar as a utilityman in 1966 and he got into 134 games.  Although he didn’t have a set position, he nevertheless led the Twins in stolen bases.  During the 1967 season, Cesar played in 70 games at third base, 64 in center field and 36 at second base.  Granted, he didn’t have an entrenched position, but baseball writers knew his value was outstanding and for the first of what would become five straight years, he was awarded MVP votes.

Near the apex of his game in 1968, Tovar was the only player in the American League to reach 30 doubles and 30 steals.  The Twins were becoming a strong team by the late 1960s after their move from Washington.  By 1969, they made the postseason.  That year Cesar teamed with Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva and Ted Uhlaender to give the Twins four men with 90+ runs scored.  Minnesota took part in the first ever ALCS but were embarrassed by the Orioles.

The Twins suffered much the same fate in 1970 when Baltimore again toppled them in the ALCS, but the regular season was a good one for Tovar.  He led the AL in both doubles and triples, finished second in runs scored with 120, hit .300 for the first time and ended the year with a .385 BA against Orioles pitchers.  But his best year was just around the corner.  In 1971, Tovar led the American League with 204 base hits and finished second in the AL in runs scored.  He also matched his career high for on-base percentage and walked more than he struck out.

When Tovar’s numbers fell off in ’72, he was traded to the Phillies for fireman Ken Sanders and slugger Joe Lis.  He played one injury-plagued season in Philadelphia before his contract was sold to the Texas Rangers.  His last great year was that ’74 season in the Lone Star State.  He led American League right fielders with a .292 batting average.  He would spend the next two years with three different teams before calling it quits.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,488/R 834/H 1,546/2B 253/3B 55/HR 46/RBI 435/SB 226/BB 413/SO 410/BA .278/SA .368/OBP .335

One of the top closers during the 1980s, Jeff Reardon nailed down games for those boys north of the border: the Montreal Expos.  The National League saves champ of 1985, Reardon received few opportunities to save games in October until he was traded to the Twins and helped them win the 1987 World Series.  The bearded fireman was a three-time 40 saves man and currently rests seventh all-time in career saves.

The Mets signed Reardon as an undrafted amateur in 1977 and the signing quickly paid off as they summoned him to the Majors in 1979.  In his first taste of the Major Leagues he posted a flattering 1.016 WHIP.  A member of the 1980 rookie class, Jeff fanned 101 batters but lost out on Rookie of the Year voting to southpaw fireman Steve Howe.  Early the next season the Mets traded Jeff to the Expos for slugging outfielder Ellis Valentine.  Reardon was untouchable in Montreal after the deal.  With the Expos, he averaged an amazing 0.488 hits per inning. 

Although the Expos made the postseason in ’81, they were unable to defeat the Dodgers and thus never made another postseason appearance the remainder of Reardon’s tenure with the club.  Despite the Expos falling in the standings, Reardon established himself as an elite closer.  In 1982, he saved 26 games on a tidy 2.06 ERA.  Montreal had a strong bullpen in the early to mid 1980s as Jeff saved 23 games in 1984 in a pen that featured such notables as Gary Lucas, Bob James and Dan Schatzeder.

By 1985, Reardon had distanced himself from his bullpen cronies and paced the league with 41 saves.  The following year, he nailed down 35 saves–second in the senior circuit.  But the Expos were no longer a contending team.  They had shipped Gary Carter to the Mets for youngsters and they did the same with Andre Dawson and Reardon.  Jeff was shipped to the Twins for the 1987 season in a deal that landed the Expos catcher Jeff Reed and two southpaws: Neal Heaton and Yorkis Perez.  The trade worked well for Minnesota.

The Twins captured the AL pennant in 1987 as Jeff fanned 83 batters in 80 innings of work.  He worked four games against the Cardinals in the World Series and was on the hill when the last out of the classic Fall Classic was recorded.  Although he had an ERA above 4.00 for the first time in his career in 1987, Reardon trimmed it back down to a nifty 2.47 in 1988.  That year Jeff posted 42 saves–second in the AL–and began to showcase terrific accuracy; something uncommon in closers.

In 1989, Reardon’s strike-throwing abilities were at their peak.  In 73 innings of work, the bearded closer issued just a dozen walks.  But when his ERA climbed back above 4.00, the Twins allowed him to sign a free agent deal with the Red Sox.  In 1991, he posted his third 40 saves season for the Boys of Beantown.  When he became alarmingly hittable in 1992, the Red Sox traded him to the Braves late in the season.  The transaction allowed Reardon another shot at October play.  With Atlanta down the stretch, Jeff posted a 1.15 ERA.  In the NLCS, he won the deciding Game 7 but he struggled in a World Series loss to the Blue Jays.

Reardon signed with the Reds and pitched one season out of a underachieiving Cincinnati bullpen.  His last Major League action came with the 1994 New York Yankees.

THE NUMBERS

W 73/L 77/PCT .487/ERA 3.16/G 880/SV 367/IP 1,132/H 1,000/BB 358/SO 877

The greatest shortstop of all-time, Honus Wagner once claimed that Parent was one of the more adept shortstops at turning the double play.  Freddy Parent was a terrific defender who covered far more ground than the average shortstop, but given the crude method in which errors were recorded during the game’s early days, Parent would often exceed 50 errors a season.  That isn’t a knock against Parent’s game, but a knock against the record keeping of the Deadball Era.

Parent had a two game trial with the Cardinals in 1899, when they were still called the Perfectos.  When the American League became a Major League in 1901, Parent finally got his chance to play everyday at the highest level.  Clearly one of the top shortstops in the business, Parent had his high water mark for batting average as a rookie while also leading AL shortstops in runs scored, hits and doubles.  To give you some insight on how liberal official scorers were with errors back then, Parent was charged with 63 miscues but posted a fielding percentage twenty-two points above league average.

Before Wagner established himself as an everyday shortstop in Pittsburgh, Parent might have been the top shortstop in the Majors during the beginning of the modern two-league platform.  In 1902, Freddy topped Major League shortstops in runs scored and base hits.  Defensively he led shortstops in assists and from 1901 to 1904, he was the top shortstop in the new-fangled stat of “defensive games.”

By 1903, the Pirates stopped their positional carousel with Honus Wagner and allowed him to entrench himself at short.  That season, Wagner and Parent were the only shortstops in the Majors to slug over .400.  Freddy, playing for AL powerhouse Boston, drove in 80 runs during the season while no other American League shortstop reached 50 RBI.  The 1903 season is remembered by historians as the first year of the modern World Series.  In the first modern Fall Classic, Freddy hit .281 with three triples.

Parent was without a peer in the American League in 1904.  The Boston shortstop led his AL position peers in numerous stats.  He topped the list in batting average, runs, hits, homeruns, RBI and slugging average.  With the leather, Parent finished second in both putouts and assists.  But his bat mysteriously dried up in 1905 as his batting average fell 57 points and his RBI total dropped an alarming 44 points.  Still stuck with low averages (BA, SA and OBP) in 1906, Freddy nevertheless led Major League shortstops in triples.

Freddy raised his batting average back up to its old standards in 1907 but his run production suffered greatly as the once powerful Red Sox became the American League’s doormat.  Looking to shake up their roster, the Red Sox traded Parent to the White Sox.  He struggled his first year in the Windy City thanks to injury (he suffered a beaning and began wearing a helmet, but discarded it when opposing players questioned his courage) but rebounded nicely in 1909.  The veteran shortstop posted a career high 32 stolen bases and posted his best on-base percentage since his rookie year.  But 1909 was Parent’s last good year. 

After a disastrous 1910 season in which his batting average fell to .178, Parent was sold to the minor league Baltimore Orioles.  Although his days as a Major League player were over, Freddy was an instrumental figure in the game’s progress.  With Baltimore, Parent took an immature young southpaw under his wing, George Herman “Babe” Ruth, and later recommended the Sultan of Swat to his chums in Boston.  Parent would live on into the 1970s and when he died a few years away from his 100th birthday, he was the last surviving participant of the first modern World Series.

THE NUMBERS

G 1,327/R 633/H 1,306/2B 180/3B 74/HR 20/RBI 471/SB 184/BA .262/SA .340/OBP .315

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