Paul Klee: Coors Field carries a Hall of Fame stigma like Steroid Era

By: Paul Klee
January 18, 2017 Updated: January 19, 2017 at 6:29 am
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DENVER, CO - ARRIL 06: Assistant groundskeeper Adam Steward taking care of pitchers mound before the Colorado Rockies workout the day before their home opener at Coors Field. April 06, 2016 in Denver, CO. (Photo By Joe Amon/The Denver Post)

DENVER - Don't use steroids, kids. Worse yet, don't play at Coors Field.

PEBs are the new PEDs. The performance-enhancing ballpark is detrimental to a ballplayer's chances of reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame - perhaps even more so than performance-enhancing drugs. Voters on Wednesday nudged Astros star Jeff Bagwell, Rangers and Tigers rock Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez and Expos legend Tim Raines into the Hall of Fame's Class of 2017. Well deserved and what a sweet honor that must be.

But the thing that caught my eye when votes were revealed was the leap taken by noted cheaters Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds - in contrast to the dwindling candidacy of Rockies star Larry Walker. Yes, Clemens, as intimidating and powerful as a pitcher can be, and Bonds, the greatest hitter I've seen, were more impactful players than Walker.

But the voting results suggest the PED knock against Clemens and Bonds is less of a knock than the Coors Field stigma placed on Walker. In a process that demands 75 percent of the vote for induction, Bonds and Clemens rose 9.5 (to 53.8) and 8.9 percent (54.1) from last year. They'll make it eventually. Walker is sitting at 21.9 percent of the vote, an increase of just 6.4 from the previous year. Walker has only three more go-rounds to enter the Hall of Fame. In other words, it's not looking good. If the Coors Effect is the case against a Rockies batter, baseball fans here should request that pitchers also are graded on a curve. It figures that Coors burdens pitchers as much as it boosts batters, right?

I must say this outright: the Baseball Hall of Fame is hardly my area of expertise. But like some of its experts I can count numbers, and Walker's career stats align quite favorably with some of the outfielders who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Jonah Keri, who chronicled the Montreal Expos' rise and exit in his 2015 best-selling book "Up, Up and Away," is the biggest Tim Raines proponent on the baseball-loving planet. And Keri said he could make the argument Walker deserved the Hall before Raines. That's enough for me.

Larry Walker played for the Colorado Rockies from 1995 to 2004. (AP file) 

For what it's worth, Walker is the finest all-around player I've seen in a Rockies uniform, a brilliant athlete with all five tools, though current third baseman Nolan Arenado is cruising down that road with no stop sign in sight.

But, you know, Coors. The two knocks against Walker are the injuries he faced in his career and that roughly one-third of his career at-bats took place at the local launching pad. The injury thing reminds of the Terrell Davis case, how the Broncos running back is penalized in Hall of Fame voting because his career was cut short. (TD is way overdue for enshrinement.) Perhaps if Walker had retired early, when his greatness was a bigger deal than his gimpiness, the focus would be on his 1997 MVP award, three batting titles and seven Gold Gloves. We don't know for sure. What we do know, from Wednesday's vote, is that PED use is less of a deterrent for Hall of Fame induction than it used to be. It looks inevitable that Bonds and Clemens are on their way to enshrinement. But Walker? His numbers aren't taken seriously because of the park with which he's associated.

Perhaps Todd Helton will have better luck when the Rockies' leader in career hits, doubles, runs, home runs, RBI and walks is eligible for the ballot in two years. Voters gradually have loosened their opinions on the candidacy of Bonds and Clemens. Maybe that happens with the All-Stars from Coors Field as well. So far for Walker it's been an uphill climb.

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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