HOWARD MEGDAL: I understand why Chuck Klein took so long to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sure, he’d put up terrific numbers, but they took place with Klein playing his home games for years at the Baker Bowl, a very generous hitting environment. He retired in 1944, and without stats that can appropriately adjust raw numbers to reflect era and ballpark, it was impossible to know just how good Klein was for many years.
Well, that’s not true of Larry Walker, and here’s what we know: he was offensively superior to Klein, along with nearly everyone else to play right field, and his career was about 10 percent longer than Klein, a 1980 inductee. In fact, Walker is better than many right fielders in the Hall-to find right fielders superior to him, one needs to look at the Hall’s inner circle. Walker is an easy choice.
Among players who played at least 70 percent of their games in right field and accumulated at least 7,000 plate appearances, Larry Walker ranks fifth all time in OPS+ with 140. That’s not OPS. That’s taking away Coors Field, taking away the hitters’ era Walker played in… it evens the playing field. Those ahead of him are Mel Ott (155), Harry Heilmann (148), Sam Crawford (146) and Vladimir Guerrero (143). The first three are obvious Hall of Famers, while Guerrero certainly should be. Regardless, there’s a tiny difference between Vlad and Walker offensively, and Walker was a far superior defensive player. He won six Gold Gloves, and unlike Guerrero, continued to play regularly at his position late in his career (his sixth Gold Glove came at age 35).
And who did Walker best in OPS+? Al Kaline. Paul Waner. Tony Gwynn. Roberto Clemente. And many, many others.
Usually, Hall of Fame arguments need to overcome certain blemishes. The case for Walker? He was one of the finest at his position ever, both offensively and defensively, for a long time. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.
CHRIS PUMMER: I’m on record as a Big Hall advocate. I don’t think the BWWAA elects nearly enough players. If I had a ballot, I’d vote for the 10 best guys every year, and I think it should be a rule that every voter should do the same. Perhaps I’m an extreme Big Hall guy that way.
That said, I’m still not completely sold on Larry Walker as a Hall of Famer, mostly because there are probably 10 guys I would vote for in front of him if I had a ballot.
The guys who I’d definitely vote for ahead of walker: Bert Blyleven, Roberto Alomar, Alan Trammell, Barry Larkin, Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Kevin Brown.
The guys who I could maybe be convinced to bump for Walker are Dale Murphy, Mark McGwire and Edgar Martinez.
It could be that I’m giving Murphy and McGwire too much credit for their higher peaks. And maybe Martinez too much slack for how the Mariners handled him early in his career, possibly costing him the at-bats that could have raised his case over Walker’s much more clearly.
I just think all of those guys were better players. And I think there should be no obligation to add a right fielder to account for a deficiency of them the Hall may or may not have.
Comparing Walker to the current group of HOF right fielders isn’t the way to make his case. He may have been better than Waner or Klein, but those guys played in the 1930s, a time period that’s pretty well acknowledged to have more than its fair share of HOF inductees. Walker may have out OPSed Kaline, Gwynn and Clemente, but those three players each had at least 2,000 more plate appearances than Walker.
Looking at those factors, it becomes less clear that it’s a travesty should Walker not make it. That’s even before anyone mentions Coors Field and whatever benefit Walker may have gained in playing there. Or his penchant for not playing a lot of full seasons.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t belong. If Alomar and Blyleven had been inducted last year, Walker would be among my top 10, which means I’d vote for him if given the chance. Maybe with Rafael Palmeiro getting a harder look, too.
If a extreme Big Hall guy like me is on the fence about Walker’s candidacy, then it’s hard to say he has a slam-dunk case.