This week, the Baseball Hall of Fame released it’s Hall of Fame ballot and there are four former Expos on the ballot. Two of them have a real shot on the ballot, the third has none and the fourth was an Expo for such an insignificant period that we will mention him in name only.
We will start with Raines. I am of the generation that missed Raines’s first tour of duty with the Expos. He was traded in 1990 when I was just five years old. However, I do have an everlasting memory of him in an Expos uniform much like I do of Gary Carter. It was the home opener of the 2001 season against the New York Mets.
Felipe Alou had a flair for the dramatic and had Raines make his first appearance back with the team starting in left field. After a huge ovation in the introductions that brought tears to Raines eyes, what happened as he stepped in for his first at bat is what resonates. The large crowd at Olympic Stadium (again, this was a home opener – 45,183 were in attendance) stood and cheered as loud as I have ever seen them in Olympic Stadium. And they didn’t stop. For the entire at bat. Raines had to step out several times to keep his emotions in check and poor Glendon Rusch was rattled. He had allowed back-to-back singles to Vladimir Guerrero and Lee Stevens and walked Raines on four pitches, one of which went to the backstop. It was Raines doing what he did best – getting on base. And the crowd doing what it rarely did at the stadium – making a difference.
After walking Raines, Rusch couldn’t get back on track. He allowed an bases-clearing double to Orlando Cabrera and pitched one more inning allowing two more runs. The 4-0 deficit the Expos had when Raines stepped up to the plate in the second inning went to a 5-4 lead by the fourth inning. It was the most dramatic event that I saw happen at Olympic Stadium.
All that to say that many baseball people think that Raines should be in the hall of fame and should be able to get closer every year. I don’t think he will be able to make it this year because the voters tend to be very conservative in handing out votes, but should get a nice bump in vote totals at the very least.
That brings us to Larry Walker. Walker is a very interesting case. A star in the steroid era, yet his performance enhancer is not a cream or a substance but rather Coors Field. When Walker went from Montreal to Colorado he was one of the best players in the game and a star of the Expos scouting and development department. He is the first one of that generation’s Expos stars to be on the ballot. (Moises Alou, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero are sure to follow on the ballot with Johnson, Martinez and Guerrero with realistic shots).
Walker will most likely not be an Expo even if he is inducted but has a connection with Expos fans due to his timing. He came up with Marquis Grissom, Delino DeShields and Alou in the early 1990s and represented the hope that was personified in that 1994 team. He, Grissom and Alou were the Raines-Dawson-Valentine of the current generation of Expos fans.
But, what is keeping Walker out of the Hall, even though he was one of the greatest hitters of his era? People don’t trust the numbers he had in Colorado. I don’t agree with the reasoning. Walker was a cut above, much like Todd Helton. You don’t see Vinny Castilla, Andres Galarraga and Dante Bichette on the ballot. Just Walker. He was great as an Expo, he was great as a Cardinal and great as a Rockie even after you adjust for the ball park he played in.
Walker is already punished by advanced stats that neutralize his home stats, but he wasn’t even that bad away from Colorado. He was still great. And voters are punishing him even more due to their perceptions of the thin air. No one took homeruns away from Reggie Jackson in Yankee Stadium. No one is going to say that Felix Hernandez was helped too much by Safeco Field. Plain and simple, Walker is a hall of famer. Even if he won’t go in as an Expo, he still deserves to be there.