Larry Walker has achieved baseball immortality by one big league team for certain. His jersey retirement will come on a Sunday afternoon this April, and we’ll find out within the next week if his immortality will be furthered in Cooperstown.
Walker’s number 33 is to join Todd Helton’s 17 as the only Rockies numbers adorned on the face of the right field mezzanine. Walker spent his first six big league years in Montreal, the following nine and a half in Colorado, and then his final one and a half in St. Louis. He made one All Star appearance in Montreal, four in Colorado. A 1997 NL MVP with the Rockies cements his legacy in Colorado, and his collective resume has been deemed of sufficient regard for no Rockie to ever wear 33 again.
The Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the class of 2020 on Tuesday night, so this announcement can’t really stand as a Hall of Fame marketing ploy for some votes. With Walker’s final year on the ballot almost up, the timing of his jersey retirement does seem more than just mere coincidence, however; the team could have realistically done it at any point in the last 15 years. The motives behind why it’s upon us now, rather than before, make for interesting discussion.
If he were labeled ‘as worthy as Helton,’ perhaps his number would have been retired over 10 years ago. If he didn’t play for Montreal, maybe the number would have been retired by now, too. If Helton didn’t suit up for all 17 of his years in Denver, maybe the immediacy of the number 17 jersey retirement wouldn’t have been as quick, either.
Walker is also a prime topic of discussion in Rockies news at the moment, and celebrating him now is sure to give him a sizable ovation when his number is revealed in a few months.
Helton nearly doubled Walker’s time in a Rockies uniform. He collected five All Star appearances, all consecutive. The serious longevity of Helton’s tenure paired with his successes in Colorado made the decision easy for his number to be honored, so much so that it happened months after his retirement. Mix in a 2007 World Series appearance (and arguably the most iconic moment in Rockies history) and it makes that decision a no-brainer.
That discussion shouldn't knock Walker’s accomplishments in the slightest; it exists more to reason where the standards may be for future Rockies jersey retirements. Walker and Helton’s circumstances have been different in a lot of ways. With only two players receiving number retirement recognition thus far, it’s hard to determine the exact qualities necessary.
It also seems that nine years in Denver and an MVP, or 17 years and a World Series appearance, is a good place to start.
Jackie Robinson’s 42 and the initials of Keli McGregor are recognized in the same space where Helton’s number is, and Walker’s will be. Robinson’s 42 at Coors Field used to be on the actual fence in right field, as were McGregor’s initials. The addition of Helton as the third honoree prompted a move to their current location, above the visitor bullpen in right-center field.
Walker is not the final Rockie to ever wear 33; Justin Morneau did so in 2014 and 2015.
The projection thus far: Walker, 85.5 percent, 10.5 above the cutoff line. If Walker’s name is indeed read off Tuesday night for a bronze Hall of Fame plaque, this would make for quite the month for him.
Hall of Fame ballot tracker Ryan Thibodaux has collected the results of over 150 ballots by voters that have made their votes public. The data collected gives a general idea for what may be to come, but a large margin of error remains with over half the remaining ballots unaccounted for.
The projections are also subject to their own sets of scrutiny, and a sampling that has inherent bias. The sabermetric-savvy voters are probably the tech-savvy ones, and likely use social media with ease to share their results. Someone that looks at less sophisticated stats may take a less sophisticated view to their Twitter account too, and keep their ballot private. A ‘small Hall’ voter who picks significantly under 10 maximum players may be fed up with people telling them to fill out their boxes, so they might decide to stay private. There’s a reason for every voters’ decision to go public or private.
Essentially there are two outcomes on tweeting out your ballot: either most people agree and there’s little commentary, or most people disagree and all hell breaks loose.
The less popular ballots in the public eye can understandably be labeled the ones that stay private. Three people didn’t vote for Ken Griffey Jr. or he’d have been unanimous. We still don’t know who those three writers are to this day.
A private ballot challenges a fundamental principle of journalism. It wards off media transparency. The Baseball Writers of America vote for the Hall, and a professional writer or journalist should most definitely understand their job is completely dependent on revealing the truth (or at least it should be). It’s what has kept them employed.
The privacy of a ballot can ensure votes remain integral without outside influence, however. The writers likely know more than anybody that publishing a less-popular take comes with baggage, even if they firmly believe in their particular take. Facing backlash they label as unnecessary isn’t a real productive use of time, especially on a responsibility like the ballot they assessed for hours.
85.5 percent of public ballots have been serious about Walker. That would be over a 30 percent increase from last year’s results, which would get him his plaque. That number can understandably decrease when the private ballots are calculated, and likely will, but the 10.5 percent safety net provides at least some degree of cushion for a number likely to fall.
For the sake of a Rockies induction, hopefully that net is sufficient. We’ll know for real in three days.