Cards acquire Walker in trade with Rockies

Sunday, August 8, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Larry Walker couldn't say no to the Cardinals, waiving his no-trade clause to join a team with the best record in baseball.

After blocking deals to Arizona and Texas the past two years, the star outfielder was traded from the Colorado Rockies to St. Louis on Friday night for minor league pitcher Jason Burch and two players to be named.

The Cardinals improved to 70-38 with Friday night's 6-4 win over the New York Mets and appear headed to an NL Central title.

"It is tough not to be happy about that. They are going to the playoffs and have a chance to win the World Series," said Walker, choking back tears as he spoke in Denver.

The addition of Walker, a three-time NL batting champion, gives the Cardinals a power-packed lineup that also includes Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds.

Walker could make them the favorites for the NL pennant.

"When you look at what he provides to our club and put him in the middle of that lineup, it's pretty exciting," Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said. "I feel he'll be energized to come in here and play for us, and I think he'll energize our club."

The only time Walker has played in the postseason was in 1995 with the Rockies, who were eliminated in the first round.

"This is a great opportunity for him to go to a great baseball city and have a chance to win a world championship," Colorado general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "We tried very hard to put him in a city where he can accomplish his dream of winning a world championship."

The 1997 NL MVP, a seven-time Gold Glove winner, cleared waivers and agreed not to block the deal with his no-trade clause. He expects to join the Cardinals during their game against the New York

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa wasn't certain where Walker would bat. He's been a No. 3 hitter most of his career, but that's where Pujols, runner-up for the NL MVP Award the last two years, has been all season.

"There's some good times ahead -- where to hit him, where to play him, how much to play him," said La Russa, who praised team ownership. "They're trying to give us every chance we can to get to the finish line and get to October and do some damage."

Walker, 37, vetoed a trade to the Rangers just before the July 31 deadline for deals without waivers. In November 2002, he blocked a trade to Arizona for Matt Williams, who also vetoed the deal.

Walker's salary, age and history of injuries surely led to him passing through waivers. He didn't play this season until June 22 because of a groin strain, then hit three homers three days later in Cleveland. He has been on the disabled list eight times in his 16-year career.

"There were a couple of things that factored into this," Walker said. "I got to stay in the National League. Playing DH would be a big thing for me not being in the field all the time. I am familiar with National League pitching and the National League ballparks. Spring training for them is 20 minutes from my home in Florida. I have never heard so many people say so many good things about an organization as I have about the Cardinals."

The five-time All-Star is in the fifth season of a $76 million, six-year contract that pays him $12.5 million each in 2004 and 2005. The deal has a 2006 team option at $15 million with a $1 million buyout.

Colorado agreed to pay $7.5 million of his 2005 salary.

The best player ever to come out of Canada, Walker has a career average of .315 with 357 homers and 1,232 RBIs. He has batted .300 nine times, including an NL-leading .379 in 1999.

"He has had a great career here and accomplished so much in a Rockies uniform, it is really bittersweet," O'Dowd said. "He didn't initiate it at all. I initiated all the conversations. When a player is at a certain point in his career, then you know there are certain things that he is looking for."

Walker was batting .324 with six homers and 20 RBIs in 108 at-bats this season. He said in recent weeks he would be willing to waive his no-trade clause to go to a playoff-contending team. One of his two Colorado homes is on the market.

St. Louis began the night with a 9 1/2-game lead in the NL Central. Reggie Sanders, who has been starting in right field, probably will move to left to make room for Walker.

"What an unbelievable acquisition," Cardinals pitcher Matt Morris said.

The 21-year-old Burch was 5-5 with a 3.61 ERA and 21 saves at Class-A Peoria. He was selected in the 21st round of the 2003 draft out of Nebraska.

Colorado began the night fourth in the NL West at 47-61.

"Larry is 38 and he was not going to be with us after next year," O'Dowd said. "This gave us the best opportunity to put him somewhere with a chance to win, and it gives Matt Holliday the opportunity to play every day."

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