Both Larry Walker and Todd Helton were brilliant performers for the Colorado Rockies, excelling on … [+]
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Like most topics in life, a difference of opinion is an absolute and that also holds true in baseball especially regarding the election of players into the Hall of Fame.
There is an obvious bone of contention concerning two players that deserve strong consideration for an invitation into Cooperstown . . . and the argument that arises when their names are mentioned for this great honor is the fact that they both played all or most of their careers for the Rockies, home of the Colorado air and the hitter friendly confines of Coors Field.
But make no mistake, not every player who has donned a Rockies uniform performed up to expectations, so the case can certainly be made that first baseman Todd Helton and right fielder Larry Walker should be given a fair assessment and be looked at for what they were—great MLB players.
Helton was highly productive with the bat and put together one of the best six-year runs (1999-2004) in modern history. During that span, the five-time All-Star averaged 196 hits, 48 doubles, 37 homers, 124 runs, 121 RBIs, 101 walks, .344 batting average, .441 on-base percentage, .633 slugging and a staggering 1.074 OPS per year.
During his 17 years in the majors, he totaled 2,519 hits, 592 doubles—19thon the all-time list—369 home runs—tied with Ralph Kiner and eight more than Joe DiMaggio—1,406 RBIs, and a .414 on-base percentage — 27thon the all-time list tied with Mike Trout.
Many contend his offensive numbers benefitted greatly with him playing half his games in Coors Field, but Helton’s career numbers were quite productive in other ballparks, as he hit .287 with 142 homers, 547 RBIs, and a .386 on-base percentage away from the Colorado atmosphere.
“No doubt. One hundred percent,” former teammate Matt Holliday told Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold about Helton’s Hall of Fame status. “They’re part of Major League Baseball. He’s been a dominant player in the league. I think the Hall of Fame is for guys who were dominant, elite players for a good big chunk of the years that they played. He played 17 years. He was dominant for that big chunk. If you want to talk Coors Field or whatever, they’re part of the league, they’re part of Major League Baseball. He’s been a dominant player for a long time. He’s been an elite player, an All-Star player, a Gold Glove player. He’s a great player.”
Great is an accurate statement for Helton, especially his first 10 years in the league. He was a defensive standout as a first baseman, winning three Gold Glove Awards and ranking among the all-time career leaders in putouts, assists, double plays, total chances, and fielding percentage, while ranking high in Total Fielding Runs Above Average and in Defensive Runs Saved.
Helton was a doubles machine. Since 1900, he hit the most doubles in a single decade with 431 during a 10-year span in the 2000s (2000-2009). The only other players to hit 400 or more doubles during a decade are Rogers Hornsby (405 in 1920s), Charlie Gehringer (400 in 1930s), and Bobby Abreu (408 in 2000s).
The most doubles accumulated over any 10-year span is 453 by Helton from 1998 through 2007.
There is no question Helton’s offensive production during his career was outstanding and his defensive was superb, making him an elite MLB performer during his era for an extended stretch.
The imprint he left in the game merits a vote for Hall of Fame election.
As with Helton, Larry Walker enjoyed his best seasons in Colorado but had a tremendous career that began in Montreal with the Expos and ended in St. Louis with the Cardinals.
He was a great all-around player whose numbers would have been more outstanding had he not missed more than 300 games due to various injuries. Walker is among a limited number of players who ended a long active career with a .300 batting average (.313), .400 on-base percentage (.400), and .500 slugging percentage (.565).
Since 1900, only 20 players (with a minimum of 4,000 at-bats) hold a career slash line of .300/.400/.500 and they include Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Tris Speaker, Joe Jackson, Joey Votto, Frank Thomas, Mike Trout, Edgar Martinez, Stan Musial, Todd Helton, Mel Ott, Charlie Gehringer, Manny Ramirez, Harry Heilmann, and Chipper Jones.
A five-time All-Star, Walker had five 100-RBI seasons, hit .300 ten times, earned a .400 OBP in nine campaigns, had a 30 (HR)/30 (SB) season, and reached career totals of 2,160 hits, 471 doubles, 62 triples, 383 home runs, 1,355 runs, 1,311 RBIs, 230 stolen bases, 913 walks, and a .965 OPS.
When healthy, he was an electrifying player. He’d stand there coiled at the plate and suddenly rip a pitch out of the park or into the gap and the ball would be crushing against or sailing over the wall almost before the pitcher had a chance to look around and groan at the speed with which it left his bat.
“Larry Walker is the most complete player in the National League,” Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn once said. “People may overlook him because he plays in Colorado, but Walker can do it all, at the plate, in the field, and on the bases.”
Walker’s career OPS of .9654 ranks 15th in MLB history. He won seven Gold Glove Awards and had a throwing arm that was strong and accurate. He was the 1997 N.L. MVP when he scored 143 runs with 208 hits, 46 doubles, 49 homers, 130 RBIs, 33 stolen bases, .366 BA, .452 OBP, .720 slugging average, and 1.172 OPS.
A left-handed power slugger, who hit the ball to all fields, he captured three N.L. batting titles and hit a robust .357 with two home runs in his only World Series appearance.
Walker is one of 25 major league players, since 1900, to win three or more league hitting championships . . . and among those batters, Walker (3), Bill Madlock (4), Tony Oliva (3), and Pete Rose (3) are the only eligible for election players not voted into the Hall of Fame.
Walker had his detractors through the years, people who complained about his numbers at Coors Field vs. his totals in visiting ballparks and his long list of injuries, but there’s no denying on the field, he was something extra special.
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