ST LOUIS, MO - Rafael Furcal #15 and Matt Holliday #7 of the St. Louis Cardinals go after the hit by Ian Kinsler #5 of the Texas Rangers in the ninth inning during Game Two of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Larry Walker was a good St. Louis Cardinal in his time with the team ... or was he?
I like irony. Like, when you're on a cigarette break, and you look up to see a no-smoking sign. Doesn't that sort of thing just make your head spin? I love that stuff.
Which is good because baseball has a funny way of sneaking up on you. Baseball has a funny, funny way of helping teams out. The Cardinals traded for Larry Walker in 2004, en route to a 105-win season and a National League pennant. The slugging right fielder had a big contract (about $18 million left for another year and a half), but the Rockies were motivated enough to move him and pick up a few million of the contract. He had been on the DL that year with a case of being Larry Walker, but when he was healthy, he was a premium hitter.
The Cardinals made it to the World Series before losing to the famous "Tofu-'n'-Wheatgrass" Red Sox of '04, but Walker stayed with the Cardinals for 2005 and helped them win another 100 games. He picked up only 465 at-bats for the Cardinals over parts of two seasons, but considering that St. Louis won 100 games and three playoff series while employing Walker, it was a productive trade.
What does this have to do with the present? There were other teams who wanted Walker, see. Even though his bones and hamstrings were brittle and weak from listening to all that Rush, he could always hit. He was the ultimate what-if player, where you could dream of a lineup powered by a healthy Walker.
In 2004, the Texas Rangers were in first place in late July. And even though they were messing around with John Wasdin and a knuckleball-free R.A. Dickey, they thought the easiest way to upgrade would be to bring in another outfielder, and they tried to trade for Larry Walker. Here's what Baseball America had to say about the proposed deal back at the 2004 trading deadline:
(Larry) Walker rejected a trade to the Rangers for a pair of Double-A prospects (shortstop Ian Kinsler, righthander Erik Thompson) on Friday and also turned down a deal to the Diamondbacks before the 2003 season.
Kinsler was a 17th-rounder the year before, and he was surprising the prospect world by hitting .402/.465/.692 in his full-season debut in A-ball. The Rangers probably figured it was a good time to sell high. But Larry Walker turned down the deal. I'm not sure why, but probably because he hates Texas and everything in it, going so far as saying that Texas was "Canada's thong." Again, just a guess, and he might not have ever said that. We don't know why he accepted a trade to the Cardinals and not the Rangers.
But he did. And all he would have had to do was say "Yes" to the Rangers, and we'd be in a totally different reality. Kinsler has had a six-year stretch as one of the more underrated players in baseball, providing above-average offense and stellar defense from a position where most teams are happy to have one or the other. It's always hard to say exactly what would have happened in an alternate time line -- maybe the Rangers would have traded Ryan Drese for Robinson Cano and been even better -- but the odds are pretty good that the Rangers wouldn't have won two straight American League pennants without Kinsler.
They probably wouldn't be in the World Series right now. And Kinsler wouldn't be making the Cardinals miserable by making plays like this ...
... or blooping hits in front of Matt Holliday in the ninth inning of a World Series before barely succeeding on a stolen-base attempt ...
... and not letting the pressure get to him.
If the Rangers end up winning the World Series, it will be in large part because of Ian Kinsler. Who could have been a Colorado Rockie instead of a Texas Ranger. But he wasn't because the ex-Cardinal preferred to play in St. Louis instead of Texas.
Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?
Alright, maybe it's not ironic at all. But it's ... something. The Rangers have already won a World Series game because Larry Walker was picky about where he wanted to work. It might win them a championship when it's all said and done. And from Perryton to Brownsville, Larry Walker will always have the gratitude of Canada's Thong.