Larry Walker is the best player I have covered. And maybe I should leave it that as the former Rockies star receives his 10th and final chance to be elected into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA.
The results will be revealed at 4 p.m. Tuesday, with Walker trending closely to joining Derek Jeter -- a lock -- in this year's class. Walker must appear on 75 percent of the ballots. He sat at 83 percent with 52 percent of the ballots revealed as of Tuesday morning, a strong push, but possibly not enough in the final tally. Walker appreciates the support, but is bracing for disappointment.
Walker received a big boost last year, bouncing from a low of 10 percent in 2014 to 54.6 percent last year. Full transparency, Walker was not always on my ballot. A few times there were more qualified candidates who were ultimately elected, thus creating space. I voted for him again in this cycle. He boasts a strong candidacy, and would have breezed in if not for injuries and missed games as his teams fell out of contention.
Walker played 17 years, including a decade with the Rockies, hitting .313 with a .400 on-base percentage, and 383 home runs. He received National League MVP votes in eight seasons, and became the only Colorado player to win the award in 1997. That remains the best season I have ever covered. Walker batted .366 with 49 home runs, 130 RBI, a .452 OBP and 33 stolen bases. He also served as a stop sign for base runners with a breathtaking right arm, while featuring more range than a Clint Eastwood western.
I have covered great players from Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki to Nolan Arenado and Matt Holliday. None had Walker's skillset. He was a one of the last five-tool players. Few have blended his power with the ability to handle the bat and make contact. And I have never seen a better base runner. He knew exactly what gear to shift into to ensure he would get a double or triple.
The eye test was never the issue with Walker when talking about the Hall of Fame. It was the stats.
He remains a borderline case because he played more than 143 games only once and, excluding his September 1988 call-up with the Montreal Expos, averaged 123 games per season. Throw in the bias toward Coors Field, and you get anxious moments today. As Fangraphs writer Jay Jaffe pointed out in his research, Walker has the third-largest gap between his home and road OPS among players with at least 7,000 plate appearances. He batted .381 at Coors Field and .282 in all other parks. That is good, but creates doubts from some voters on whether he was great player who was simply good away from Denver.
For Walker, his case, for me, hinges on this: Do you think he did more with less? The missed games hurt, but Walker's 72.7 career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) ranks 11th among right fielders of all-time. That number is the best of any right fielder who is not in the Hall of Fame. The Rockies recognized this. After repairing their relationship with the star a several years ago -- it frayed in his final seasons with the team because of missed games, injuries and his balking at trade proposals before accepting a deal to the Cardinals -- the Rockies announced last week that they will retire Walker's No. 33 on April 19.
It cements his standing as one of the franchise's best players. Tuesday, he learns if he will be immortalized as an all-time great.