Ten days after the players' strike ended in 1995, the Rockies pounced on Expos free agent outfielder Larry Walker, signing the lefty slugger to a four-year, $22.5 million dollar deal.
Walker paid dividends immediately, batting .306 with a .988 OPS in '95 while hitting 36 home runs and driving in 101 runs in 131 games. He also stole 16 bases and played top-notch defense in leading the Rockies to the first playoff appearance in franchise history. He then proceeded to hit a three-run home run in Game 2 of the NLDS against Tom Glavine and the Braves.
The following year, the bugaboo that followed Walker throughout his career showed up, an injury. He missed all of July and good portions of June and August with a broken collarbone. In 272 at bats in 1996, he hit just .276 but still managed 40 extra-base hits and 18 steals.
Walker returned in 1997, his age 30 season, with what was perhaps the greatest offensive season in Rockies history. He hit .366/.452/.720 with 49 home runs and 130 RBI en route to winning the NL MVP award with 22 of 28 first place votes. Walker accumulated 409 total bases in 1997, the 18th most in a season in MLB history (tied with Lou Gehrig in 1934 and Rogers Hornsby in 1929). His 9.1 fWAR in '97 is tied for 72nd best all-time among hitters and is one of just 92 9+ fWAR seasons in history.
Walker's MVP season was the first of three straight years in which he hit over .360, though he was limited to 130 and 127 games in 1998 and 1999, respectively. Despite missing a total of 67 games over the two seasons, Walker still managed to hit 60 home runs in '98 and '99. He also made the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove in each season.
After the 1999 season, the Rockies rewarded Walker for his efforts with a new six-year, $75 million contract that would take him through the end of his career.
Walker again battled injuries throughout the 2000 season, with two separate DL stints limiting him to 87 games and nine home runs on the season. He bounced back in 2001, batting .350 with 38 home runs and 126 RBIs, making his fourth All-Star appearance in five years and, most importantly, playing in 142 games. Walker had another productive year in 2002, hitting .338/.421/.602 with 70 extra-base hits and his seventh Gold Glove.
As a 36-year-old in 2003, Walker began to see his production drop. He did manage to play in 143 games, but his .898 OPS was his lowest since 1993 with the Expos. He played just 38 games for the Rockies in 2004 before being traded to St. Louis, where he ended his career after the 2005 season.
But the guy they called "Booger" can't be explained with simple stats. He was a hockey player stuck on the baseball diamond, which was part of the reason he found his way to the DL so often. He was also obsessed with the number 3 (or 33) and was, at times a bit of an airhead and a goofball.
However, he undoubtedly had prodigious talent. Any time "Crazy Train" played over the Coors Field PA, there was a chance the ball was going over the fence (unless an opponent decided to walk him intentionally, which happened 71 times in his Rockies career). When he did go deep, he could go really deep, his 493-foot blast is the longest by a Rockie at Coors Field. He also played great defense in right field and had a cannon for an arm.
Walker is in the top three all-time in most Rockies career hitting stats, and was certainly fun to watch. If he could have stayed healthy for more of career, he'd be a lock for the Hall of Fame, but he will certainly have a place in the pantheon of Rockies greats.