USA TODAY Sports Weekly

• Larry Walker’s relentless hitting gets rewarded,

- Dan Schlossber­g

To Larry Walker, good things come in threes.

He has three older brothers, three children, three batting crowns and he wore the number 33 for three major league teams. He was also the 333rd person elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The list goes on: He took three practice swings before each at-bat, won three Silver Slugger awards, went to the AllStar Home Run Derby three times, had a 30/30 season and played in three postseason­s. Walker even got married at 3:33 on Nov. 3.

Though he never played baseball in high school – the weather in British Columbia isn’t conducive to the sport – Walker played fast-pitch softball with his father and brothers. He also honed his skills with a Canadian amateur club.

Eventually, a Montreal Expos scout, Bob Rogers, persuaded the penurious Expos to part with a paltry $1,500 as a bonus in 1984 for the left-handed hitter.

Walker turned to baseball from hockey after the Regina Pats, a Western Hockey League team, rejected him during a tryout.

At first, he swung wildly at anything he saw. But at 23,

Walker became the right man in right field for Montreal. He had a cannon of a throwing arm, good speed on the bases and power at the plate. He stayed with the Expos through the strike-shortened 1994 season, moved to the Colorado Rockies as a free agent and finished his 17-year career with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Walker made his biggest impression in Denver, where he won three batting crowns and ranked second twice within a six-year span. He helped the Rockies reach the playoffs in 1995, in their third year of existence and first in Coors Field, when he teamed with fellow power hitters Andres Galarraga, Vinny Castilla and Dante Bichette.

Two years later, the Rockies were out of the running but Walker was voted Most Valuable Player in the National League.

That 1997 season was by far the best of his career. Walker led the league with 49 home runs and 409 total bases, plus a .452 on-base percentage, .720 slugging mark and 1.172 OPS (onbase-plus-slugging percentage) while playing in 153 games. He somehow finished second (to Tony Gwynn’s .372) with a .366 batting average and 130 runs batted in (to Galarraga’s 140).

He led the NL with a .363 batting average in 1998, .379 a year later and .350 in 2001. His lifetime mark was .313 – a percentage critics contended was inflated by “the Coors Field factor.”

Walker’s Hall of Fame credential­s suffered. He needed the maximum 10 years to win election from the Baseball Writers’ Associatio­n of America and even then barely squeaked in with 76.6% of the vote.

“I can’t believe it was ever a question,” said Jim Leyland, who managed Walker with the 1999 Rockies. “He beat you all five ways – defense, throwing, base running, hitting and power.”

Walker had seven Gold Gloves, 383 home runs, 230 stolen bases and a .565 lifetime slugging percentage that ranks 12th on the all-time list.

He became the first player to slug .700 and steal 30 bases in the same season in 1997 and he was the first in 60 years to hit .360 in three consecutiv­e seasons. His .381 lifetime average at Coors Field was 100 points higher than his mark in other parks.

 ?? DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/AP ?? Larry Walker hit 154 of his 283 career home runs at Coors Field.
DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/AP Larry Walker hit 154 of his 283 career home runs at Coors Field.

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