25 years ago today, the Colorado Rockies made two free-agent signings in advance of the slightly delayed 1995 season and one was future Hall of Famer, Larry Walker.
25 years ago today, there were many free-agent signings in Major League Baseball but the Colorado Rockies made two: one was the signing of starting pitcher Bill Swift and the other was signing of none other than the Rockies first (and thus far, only) Hall of Famer: Larry Walker.
How the signing happened
Less than a week after the 1994-95 MLB Players’ strike officially ended, MLB free agents were signing aplenty with teams since 895 unsigned MLB players (regardless of service time status) were declared free agents in January by the MLBPA executive director Donald Fehr.
They were signing with teams in early April because District Court Judge and future Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor, ruled in favor of the MLBPA’s announcement and she ordered baseball to return under the previous collective bargaining agreement until a new one could be agreed upon (which didn’t happen until December of 1996).
Therefore, dozens of players like Walker, who was entering the final year of arbitration, were made free agents and many of them signed between April 5 and 26, like Walker (just check out all of the transactions from then).
The downfall of the ’94 Expos helps the ’95 Colorado Rockies and beyond
The Montreal Expos, who had the second-best team in baseball (by record) on the second-lowest payroll, had to cut payroll drastically due to the lost revenue. As a result, Walker was not even offered a contract in arbitration by the Expos. The Expos pulled off a firesale with many of their other pieces as well.
In 1994, he was being paid $4.025 million by the Expos (equivalent to just over $7.025 million in 2020 dollars). The Rockies signed Walker to a four-year contract worth $22.5 million for an AAV of $5.625 million (roughly worth $39.3 million and $9.8 million in 2020).
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That same day, the Rockies also signed starting pitcher Bill Swift to a three-year, $13.15 million deal. Swift was just one year removed from coming in second in the NL Cy Young Award race in 1993 after he went 21-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 34 starts for the 103-win but non-playoff San Francisco Giants.
While Swift struggled to pitch with the thin air and due to injuries, Walker thrived with the Rockies as he was a huge part of the Blake Street Bombers crew that helped get the Rockies to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 1995.
He spent parts of 10 seasons with the Rockies and during that span, he ranked in MVP voting six times including winning it in 1997 (the only time a Rockie has won it), won five Gold Glove Awards, he was an All-Star four times and won an NL Silver Slugger Award three times.
The Rockies traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004 and he wrapped up his career with the Cardinals in 2005.
He first became eligible on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 2011 and only got 20.3 percent of the vote. His vote total went down as low as 10.2 percent in 2014 but from then to 2020, his vote percentage went up 66.4 percent, including 54.7 percent in the last four years of his ten-year eligibility.