Welcome to the 11th category of our Tiger Rag High Five, the best-ever baseball player.
A 15-member media panel with a collective 582 years of sports journalism experience picked LSU’s five best athletes, coaches, moments, and individual game and season performances in 21 categories covering all present and past sports.
Voters on the panel were provided information of six to 10 nominees and were asked to rank one through five. The panel voters could also write-in their own candidates.
Scoring was tallied as 5 points for a first-place vote, 4 for second-place, 3 for third-place, 2 for second place and 1 for last-place. Ties were not broken.
LSU’s baseball has won six NCAA national championships, 17 SEC regular season championships and 12 SEC tournament titles.
The winner of the best-ever LSU baseball player is. . .
Todd Walker 55 (6 first-place votes)
2. Ben McDonald 51 (3)
Only LSU baseball player selected No. 1 overall in MLB draft
3. Eddy Furniss 39 (2)
1998 national Player of the Year when he hit .403
4. Aaron Nola 30 (1)
2014 national Pitcher of the Year, combined 23-2 in his last two seasons
5. Alex Bregman 26
First-team All-American shortstop 2015, led LSU to the College World Series
Here’s Walker’s story:
Like most people around the world coping with the coronavirus pandemic the last three months, Todd Walker has been home in Shreveport with his family finding ways to pass the time.
Normally, Walker, who was chosen Tiger Rag Magazine’s 15-person panel as the greatest baseball player in LSU’s glorious history, spends the spring as an ESPN and SEC Network baseball analyst.
Instead, Walker, never one to idle as evidenced by the fact he has a pilot’s license, is trying new pursuits such as writing, reading books and learning how to play the guitar. He’s playing a lot of tennis, which he has done for years after finding golf was taking too much of his time and not providing enough exercise.
And also, Walker finally got around to looking at some old scrapbooks and photo albums.
It’s where he stumbled across his first recruiting letter from then-LSU coach Skip Bertman dated Feb. 13, 1989 when he was a 15-year old sophomore at Airline High in Bossier City. Bertman wrote “we have a since interest in you and hope that you might consider Louisiana State University.”
“Just getting a letter with LSU letterhead was a big deal,” recalled Walker, who turned 47 on May 25. “I was instantly the most popular guy in school.”
Just more than 28 years later in April 2017 just prior to LSU opening a three-game home series against Ole Miss, Bertman stood proudly on the new Alex Box Stadium infield with a crowd of Walker’s friends, family and former teammates as Walker’s No. 12 jersey number was retired.
“Todd probably had the best three years of anybody in college baseball,” Bertman said.
The numbers don’t lie.
From 1992-94 as LSU’s second baseman starting all 202 games in his three seasons before being drafted after his junior year No. 8 overall by Minnesota, Walker completed his college career batting .396 and was the SEC all-time leader in hits (310), runs (234), RBIs (246) and total bases (557).
He was a two-time first-team All-American, two-time first-team All-SEC, two-time College World Series all-tournament team, the 1993 SEC Player of the Year, the Most Outstanding Player in the ’93 CWS, and 1992 national Freshman on the Year.
During his LSU career, the Tigers played in two CWS and won the national title in ’93, won two SEC regular season championships and an SEC tournament title.
Walker was the Louisiana Class 4A Player of the Year when he arrived in Baton Rouge in the fall of 1991 to join a Tigers’ program coming off their first national championship. When fall practice opened, he was third on the depth chart at second base behind Keyaan Cook and Mike Neal had one goal in mind – don’t strike out.
“I knew I wasn’t big enough to hit 40 home runs, so I knew going in I had to be consistent,” Walker said. “What that meant was showing up on time every day, grinding it out and putting the ball in play consistently.
“I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I know if don’t strike out you have a chance. What started to separate me was they couldn’t strike me out. I steadily put the ball in play.”
It was during the Tigers’ individual fall semester exit interviews when Bertman told Walker that “you’re going to be the starting second baseman and you’re going to stay there all year because I’m not taking you out.”
Bertman’s words lit Walker’s fuse.
“When he told me that, it motivated beyond anything else I’ve ever heard,” Walker said. “Skip catapulted me to another level. I came back home during Christmas break, getting after it and really working hard.”
Walker finished his freshman season batting .400, the first LSU player ever to accomplish the feat.
He was driven to perfection. He had few hitless games and remembered how he reacted his first season after a 0-for-5 or 6 night at UNO in a 9-5 loss.
“I was so mad that after we drove the hour back to Baton Rouge, me and Mike Neal turned the lights on at Alex Box and we just hit all night,” Walker said. “I literally remember the sun coming up. It wasn’t a sacrifice or a punishment, I enjoyed it.
“That moment propelled me forward in terms of avoiding slumps. Part of being a baseball player is being aware of what can happen and staying on top of it.”
For instance, Walker was so jacked up in his first College World Series in 1993 that he was 1-for-11 in LSU’s first three games. The lone hit was a grand slam homer that keyed a six-run eighth inning rally in a 13-8 win over Texas A&M.
“It was a 3-2 fastball that I knew was coming,” Walker said. “I remember at that moment you don’t focus on the past. I was finally able to relax having enough at-bats under my belt in Omaha to square that ball up.”
In the Tigers’ final two games, Walker was 6-of-9 with six RBI, including a walk-off game-winning RBI single in a 6-5 win over Cal-State Fullerton and two-run homer in the first inning in LSU’s 8-0 national championship game whitewash of Wichita State.
“I started off bad in Omaha because I was just happy to be there and too anxious,” said Walker, who hit six homers in 10 NCAA ’93 tourney games. “When you step in the box at Omaha for the first time, you’re geared. You’re almost trying to run out to the mound and hit it. There’s no sitting back and waiting on the pitch.”
Walker moved on to a stellar 12-year major league career in which he hit .289. Bertman had some great hitters for the rest of his 18-year LSU coaching career but few with Walker’s remarkable consistency.
“You could tell Todd was going to be a great major league hitter,” said Bertman, who Walker still describes as “his baseball father figure.” “He was a great clutch hitter.”
Walker has become one of best college baseball analysts on ESPN and the SEC Network. Even though he knew the game backwards and forwards, he credits the three seasons he coached Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport from 2013 to 2015 for preparing him for his broadcast career.
“I knew baseball, but I don’t think you truly understand something until you have to turn around and try to teach it,” Walker said. “So, when I was hired as a high school coach I had to think about all the stuff that was told to me so I could write it down and communicate it to the kids.
“By doing that, I learned a ton more about the game itself. If it wasn’t for the high school job, I don’t know if I would have been able to handle the broadcasting part of it.”