The 2020 Hall of Fame ballot was officially unveiled this week, and for Cardinals fans, the most interesting question is: Will Larry Walker reach the threshold to be elected in his final year of eligibility?
Walker’s 54.6% last year ranked 4th among the holdovers, behind Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds - each surefire Hall of Fame caliber players who are held back because of drug use, being an asshole, or both. Walker should be as well. He ranks 21st all-time in WAR among outfielders, with Bonds the only player ahead of him who is not in the Hall of Fame.
For Walker, the hangup seems to have been the arbitrary handicap many aged, jelly-brained BBWAA voters place on him because “he played in Colorado.” Never mind that we have many modern stats which neutralize park factors and still show Walker was well above the standard for the Hall. By WAR, by wRC+ or many other park-adjusted and era-adjusted metrics, he should be a no-brainer.
But I thought I’d take a more anecdotal, more Cardinal-centric, but still compelling angle here and show that even in the twilight of his career, while he was wearing the Birds on the Bat, Larry Walker played like a Hall of Famer.
Walker came to St. Louis Aug. 6 of 2004 and bolstered that legendary team, which went all the way to the World Series. But in 2005, he played his only full season as a Cardinal at the age of 38.
Here’s the triple slash-line Larry Walker put up away from Coors Field, in the pitcher-friendly atmosphere of St. Louis, in his age 38 season: .289 / .384 / .502.
That’s remarkable production at any age and in any era. Even in one of the more offensively strong periods in baseball history, that was good for a 135 wRC+, 35% above league average. The 2020 Cardinals could use the offensive production of 38-year-old Larry Walker.
So who puts up numbers like that in their age 38 season? Very few, and the ones who do are Hall of Famers.
In the Integration Era (post 1947), only 17 players have posted a higher OPS+ in their age 38 season. Among those, you’ve got 10 Hall-of-Famers and 3 recent players (Bonds, Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre), who are deserving or likely to be elected.
Of those four who aren’t Hall of Famers, three posted very good but not great career WARs in the mid 30s (including Moises Alou). Then you’ve got Darrell Evans, who posted a 58.8 career WAR and seems like a potential Veterans Committee inductee someday. Larry Walker’s career WAR was 72.7.
Larry Walker was a Hall of Fame player throughout his career, and even in that final year+ in St. Louis, in the twilight of his career, we got to enjoy HoF caliber play. Here’s hoping he gets in.