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Locking up Walker

Rockies sign NL batting champ to six-year extension

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Posted: Thursday March 04, 1999 05:34 PM

  Larry Walker won the 1998 National League batting title with a .363 average. Al Bello/Allsport

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Larry Walker didn't have to become a free agent to cash in on baseball's escalating salary scale.

Walker, who won a batting title and the National League MVP award in the past two years, agreed Thursday to a $75 million, six-year contract extension with the Colorado Rockies that ties him for the sixth-highest average salary in the game.

The agreement came less than two weeks after Walker sat in front of his locker and openly wondered if 1999 would be his last season in Colorado.

"I'm going to relax, finally," Walker said before the Rockies' spring opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks. "I've been shaking for the last three days, not only thinking about six years and all the money that's involved, but just the fact that it's over and we can quit talking about 'What if?' I'm so elated it's sick."

Walker, 32, will make $5,075,000 this season as he finishes a five-year contract. The new deal calls for a $1 million signing bonus, $12 million each in 2000 and 2001 and $12.5 million annually from 2002-05.

His new deal, with a $12.5 million average annual value, ties him with Boston pitcher Pedro Martinez and New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams, behind only Los Angeles pitcher Kevin Brown ($15 million), Anaheim first baseman Mo Vaughn ($12.33 million), Arizona pitcher Randy Johnson ($13.1 million) and New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza and Baltimore outfielder Albert Belle ($13 million each).

Walker tied Martinez for fifth in total dollars, trailing Brown ($105 million), Piazza ($91 million), Williams ($87.5 million) and Vaughn ($80 million).

"The main thing was to stay here," Walker said. "I was going to say the money doesn't need to be astronomical going through the roof, but it is. You think about it, it's ridiculous."

After being voted the NL MVP in 1997, Walker hit .363 last year to win the batting title. Slowed by offseason elbow surgery, Walker dropped from 49 homers to 23 homers, prompting him to adopt a rigorous offseason weight training program.

"He looks terrific," Rockies owner Jerry McMorris said. "We still have to play the games, but he sure passes the eyeball test."

The compliments were limited when Walker reported early to spring training on Feb. 19. As he questioned Colorado's willingness to re-sign him, McMorris lamented the stubborn stance taken by Walker's agents, Bob Gilhooley and Pat Rooney.

Walker took an active role in the negotiating sessions earlier this week, and his participation paid off as both sides were able to agree upon the contract's length.

"I sat in on the meetings, and I know I said some things in there that probably I shouldn't have," Walker said. "I wanted to get things rolling. I wanted to get things done and over with, so I spoke up."

Another meeting Thursday morning finished the deal as Walker proposed creating a foundation that will help children and needy families in the Rocky Mountain region and Walker's hometown of Maple Ridge, British Columbia.

The Rockies agreed to match all donations made by Walker, and the foundation will start with an initial commitment of $3,333,333 split evenly between both sides. Walker wears No. 33.

"It's something that I wanted to do," Walker said. "Jerry and [co-owner] Charlie Monfort were behind it 100 percent, too. We're excited to be able to put money in a foundation to help the less fortunate."

Colorado's fortunes soared briefly when Walker signed in 1995. The Rockies made the playoffs just three years after joining the majors as an expansion team but have not returned to the postseason since.

The playoff absence is not for lack of spending. Before the 1998 season, the Rockies signed pitcher Darryl Kile to a $24 million, three-year contract, third baseman Vinny Castilla to a $24 million, four-year deal and second baseman Mike Lansing to a $23.25 million, four-year contract.

Colorado locked up outfielder Dante Bichette ($21 million for three years) duing the winter and signed first baseman Todd Helton to a $12 million, four-year deal earlier this week.

"It definitely sends a message to the players and the fans that this ownership group is serious," Rockies manager Jim Leyland said. "I think it sends the right message. If it doesn't, I don't know what would."

 
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