So what happened? Why did he leave a place where he ultimately had the most success in his career and led him to the Hall? Believe it or not, it had more to do with the Rockies’ inability to make the playoffs since his first year in town. Let’s take it back to 2003.
That season, Walker turned 36 and dealt with nearly every injury you can imagine. Remarkably, he played in 143 games. He didn’t have his typical numbers, but he still was hitting well above average and the Rockies still had a great outfield with Preston Wilson, Jay Payton and Walker.
The next season was a different story. Walker would play the fewest games of his career with 82 while he missed 68 games with a groin strain. He didn’t play his first game until well into June. By the end of that month, the Rockies were 20 games under .500 and 15 games back in the division in a season where they would win 68 games and somehow didn’t finish last in the division (thanks to the 51-111 D’Backs).
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The Rockies were going nowhere fast and Walker was nearing the end of his career. His intention was to finish his career with a contender. Marlon Brando would have been proud as he was traded to the best contender at the time. You know how this ends so more on that later. However, before Walker was traded to the Cardinals, the Rockies were exploring trades with the Texas Rangers and Florida Marlins.
Even though the Marlins cast off most of their team for the second time after winning the World Series in 2003, imagine the prospects that team had. The Dodgers and Marlins made a trade at the deadline. The Dodgers got Brad Penny and Hee Seop Choi for essentially Juan Encarnacion and Paul Lo Duca. Advantage once again, Dodgers.
Certainly the Rockies could have received more for a Hall of Famer. The rumored trade was Encarnacion and a Double-A hitter Jason Stokes. Walker had a no-trade clause and rejected a trade to the Rangers. He even turned down a trade to the Diamondbacks before the 2003 season for Matt Williams. Seeing Walker in the same division would have been too much to stomach.
The potential trade with the Rangers may be a harder pill to swallow for Rockies fans. The Rangers agreed to trade for Walker for two prospects. One was righty Erik Thompson. The other was Ian Kinsler. Having Kinsler across from Troy Tulowitzki would have been the best middle infield in baseball for the better part of a decade. Neither of those teams were contenders though. Both teams were just okay in 2004 as the Marlins finished 83-79 and the Rangers went 89-73. This trade for Walker and the Rockies front office was doing the best by, at that point, the greatest player in Rockies history. They delivered in spades but probably to the detriment to the team.