Introducing… Larry Walker

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

www.examiner.com

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