NOTE: This is the fourth of five features on the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2006 which will be inducted on July 10, 2006.
By Bill Martin
LSU Sports Information
Few could ever match his presence at the plate, and even fewer could claim the accolades this second baseman acquired during his brilliant three-year career in an LSU baseball uniform. His approach was simple, yet strikingly appealing to the throngs of Tiger fans who watched this Bossier City, La., native twirl his shiny gold Easton before his patented follow through.
He helped lead LSU to its second national championship, became the first player in school history to bat .400 in a single season and was named to the all-time College World Series team. Arguably, Todd Walker was the best pure hitter in the illustrious 113-year history of the program.
Walker was an established player before enrolling in college. At 6-foot, he was named the 1991 Louisiana Class 4A Player of the Year en route to leading Airline High School to a state runner-up spot. He turned down a free agent contract from the Texas Rangers in the 1991 draft to honor his commitment to head coach Skip Bertman.
"Fortunately for us he wanted to come to LSU," Bertman said. "He was injured when he was in high school, and he moved over from shortstop to second base. He never did quite have his arm back when he was a senior, so lots of people didn't recruit him."
Walker earned the starting spot at second base after a solid fall campaign, and he was one of three players who comprised the Tigers' "Fantastic Freshmen". Fellow teammate Russ Johnson, a native of Denham Springs, was a hard-nosed worker who was relied upon as an everyday third baseman and designated hitter. Pitcher Scott Schultz emerged as the No. 2 starter behind ace Lloyd Peever.
"All you heard about was the legendary Russ Johnson from Denham Springs and the Scott Schultz curveball from Virginia," Walker said. "Those were some highly touted guys we had."
The results were more than anything Bertman could have asked for. Walker enjoyed the greatest individual season by any LSU freshman since, posting the school's first .400 average while leading the Tigers in runs (72), hits (100), RBI (76), doubles (21), triples (3), homers (12) and slugging percentage (.652).
At the age of 18, his Ted Williams-like numbers did not unnoticed. He helped lead LSU to the 1992 SEC Tournament title, and despite struggling in the Tigers' NCAA South I Regional loss, was deservedly named National Freshman of the Year by Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America. He also joined Johnson and Schultz on the Freshman All-America squad.
"I really did not think he would have the impact he did," Bertman said. "I called him into the office and said to him 'you are going to start for sure'. He would stay in there as long as he wanted to, and he really appreciated that."
The 1993 season was a banner year full of expectations for a program that was in its 100th anniversary. LSU entered the season ranked No. 1 in all three major polls. Attendance was at an all-time high, and the buzz around Alex Box Stadium centered on its three super sophomores led by Walker.
Walker became a fan favorite and was the first Tiger player to enter the batter's box with his own song theme song. His pre-swing routine included a twirling of the bat every fan would recognize with the theme from Batman playing in the background.
Surely he struck fear into opposing pitchers when the sophomore once again put together a fabulous season in which the school record books were shattered. Walker batted .395 and led the SEC in homers (22), runs (85), triples (11), base hits (109) and slugging percentage.
More impressively, he rewrote the SEC annals with league records in RBI (102) and total bases (214). Walker's regular season run was capped with a 33-game hitting streak -- the longest in conference history at the time -- en route to LSU's record-setting fourth consecutive SEC title.
The streak was in jeopardy of ending at 25 games at Arkansas on April 25 as Walker was 0-for-3 with two outs in the top of the ninth inning.
"We were winning, and the game wasn't in jeopardy," Bertman said. "The dugout was yelling for (Harry) Berrios to get on base. He took a lot of pitches and finally walked so he could get up. Sure enough, Walker came up and hit a triple."
He shattered the mark nearly a week later with a first-inning homer against Auburn on May 8, surpassing the previous league record of 31 games established by Mississippi State's Rex Buckner.
Walker's impressive feat came at a time when SEC baseball was not nearly the spectacle that it is today. He quickly joined the likes of former greats Rafael Palmeiro and Will Clark of Mississippi State, Frank Thomas of Auburn and Dave Magadan of Alabama.
In a season in which the Tigers' "turned back the clock", Walker garnered first-team All-America and SEC Player of the Year honors. He finished one of nine finalists for the Golden Spikes Award presented annually to the nation's most outstanding collegiate baseball player.
Wichita State's Darren Dreifort won the award, and the two would soon meet for the game's ultimate prize.
After claiming another SEC title, Walker and the Tigers set their sights on overcoming the 1992 regional loss.
Walker tallied three homers and 12 RBI as LSU emerged through the loser's bracket in the 1993 NCAA South Regional at Alex Box Stadium. The Tigers needed to win three straight games to advance to Omaha after suffering a tough loss to an upstart Kent State club in Game 2.
LSU defeated Baylor and then knocked off South Alabama twice to reach the College World Series for the sixth time in the program's history. Walker staked the Tigers to an early lead with a three-run blast in the first inning of the deciding contest against the Jaguars, and pitcher Mike Sirotka fired his second complete game of the tournament.
LSU cruised by Long Beach State in its opening game of the College World Series, setting up a premier matchup with top-seeded Texas A&M. The Aggies jumped out to an early 7-2 lead.
However, the Tigers erased the deficit and grabbed a lead of their own capped by Armando Rios' RBI single in the eighth. LSU held a 9-8 advantage in the frame when Walker stepped to the plate with the bases loaded against A&M ace reliever Chris Clemons.
Walker, who was still looking for his first hit of the CWS, launched perhaps the most memorable homer of the tournament with a grand slam that carried beyond the left-center field wall to give the Tigers the lead for good at 13-8.
As he rounded the bases and touched third, he pointed to the stands to his father, which remains a moment Walker says he will never forget.
"It was one of the biggest moments for me," Walker said. "My dad doesn't really get into a lot of sports, so to see him react like he did was special."
Walker's heroics would be needed again five days later when LSU once again faced elimination after a loss to the 49ers. The winner of the contest advanced to play Wichita State in the championship game.
The Tigers committed a season-high five errors, and Long Beach State claimed a 5-3 advantage going into the bottom of the ninth. The 49ers were three outs away from sending LSU home until magic struck again.
Rios drove a one-out double to the left field wall, scoring the tying runs, and Johnson walked bringing Walker to the plate for a situation where he looked to receive an intentional walk from the unhittable Gabe Gonzalez.
"I was talking to Harry Berrios who was hitting behind him, and I said to Berrios, 'listen they are going to walk Todd so when you swing you better commit," said Bertman. "I just wanted him to get the ball to the outfield. I told Todd that I didn't think they would pitch to him."
Rios advanced to third on a wild pitch, and a walk seemed like the likely situation to set up a force at every base. Walker, who was already 3-for-4, had other ideas.
Gonzalez served up a fastball that he drilled into right field for the walk-off win. LSU 6, Long Beach State 5.
"I didn't quite understand what happened," Bertman said. "Naturally, he hit it hard and it went off the guy's glove into right field. If the guy would have caught it, he would have had Rios in between third and home."
Less than 24 hours later the dream was complete. Freshman Brett Laxton recorded a CWS championship game record with 16 strikeouts, and Walker crushed a two-run homer off Dreifort in the first against Wichita State.
For the second time in three years, the Tigers defeated the Shockers and capped an improbable journey through the loser's bracket to the pinnacle of college baseball.
"We weren't the best team there," Walker said. "It took an incredible effort from a group of guys with awesome performances in the College World Series. We couldn't have done it without guys like Armando Rios, Jim Greely, Russ Johnson, Brett Laxton -- the list goes on."
Walker was named the Most Outstanding Player of the College World Series as he batted .350 with three homers and 12 RBI. For the entire NCAA Tournament, he tallied six homers and a stellar 24 RBI.
Walker completed his career in 1994, and when he left his three-year total of statistics were unlike anything seen in SEC history.
He became the league's all-time leader in hits (310), runs (234), RBI (246) and total bases (557). He finished as LSU's all-time leader in hits, runs, RBI, total bases, homers (52), doubles (61), triples (15) and batting average (.396).
"He might have had the best three years of anybody who has ever played college baseball," Bertman said. "He hit in the clutch, had a hitting streak that was phenomenal, won a large majority of our games and played great defense for us."
Walker credited his successes to his teammates, coaching staff, and most importantly Bertman.
"He was like a second father to me. He taught me a lot about the game and kept me line throughout my career. What he's accomplished, you really can't put into words."
Walker went on to play for Team USA in 1993, and he was chosen by the Minnesota Twins as the eighth overall selection in the 1994 draft.
Baseball America named him the best collegiate baseball second baseman in the modern era. Prior to LSU's 1996 national championship, the Omaha World-Herald voted Walker to the College World Series All-Time Team.
He finished a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award again in 1994 behind winner Jason Varitek of Georgia Tech, who he would encounter in 2003. Walker received national attention in carrying the Red Sox through the playoffs that year.
Now, three years later, Walker is becoming only the second baseball player in school history to be named to the LSU Athletics Hall of Fame, joining the great Joe Bill Adcock (1947).
"LSU means the world to me," Walker said. "For what I have gone through in my big league career, this makes it all the more special. I could go back and do it over all again and it may not turn out the same way."
Luckily for the LSU community, it did.