Tuesday, March 5, 2024 -
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Congratulations Mr. Helton

Long overdue, but waiting made it so much sweeter

It took years, but as of January 24, 2024, legendary Colorado Rockie Todd Helton is officially taking up residence in Cooperstown, New York.

Having received 79.7% of the vote, Helton’s accession to the Baseball Hall of Fame doubles the Rockies’ representation in that hallowed ground — from one (Larry Walker) to two.

It’s been a few years, so let’s refresh:

The esteemed first baseman posted a career batting average of .316, 369 home runs and 1,406 RBIs.

Denverites won’t soon forget his 2000-2004 peak, during which he averaged .349, 37 home runs and 50 doubles a year and won three Gold Gloves.

In two consecutive seasons, 2000 and 2001, he had over 100 extra base hits — the only player to do so in Major League history. (Lou Gehrig and Chuck Klein had two 100+ extra base hit seasons, but not consecutively.)

Helton was the first player in MLB history to have 35 or more doubles 10 years in a row, and his 59 doubles in 2000 were the most in baseball since 1936.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know about the Coors Field effect. But if it’s just the altitude, why haven’t more — any? — Rockies posted Helton’s numbers?

Put it another way: In Helton’s lights-out 2000 season, he posted a .353 batting average, 98 hits, 31 doubles and 59 RBIs — on the road. In fact, as we review his career, we find ourselves asking why Helton didn’t win the MVP that year.

Helton’s stats mean that his name is mentioned together with the likes of Stan Musial — the only other player who finished his career with a .316 career batting average, 2,500+ hits, 550+ doubles and 350+ home runs. Or Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Chuck Klein and Rogers Hornsby. What does Helton have in common with those Hall of Famers? They’re a small club of five players in MLB history who have had a season with an over .370 batting average, 40+ home runs and 140+ RBIs.

Some other aspects of Helton’s character have been overlooked by numbers-centric baseball fans.

One, his loyalty to Colorado. #17 played 17 seasons for the Rockies, not once making a trade demand for a bigger market or more successful team, as has become de rigueur for today’s ego-centric stars.

Two, his persistence and grit. Beginning in 2006, Helton battled severe back injuries, later diagnosed as a degenerative back condition requiring multiple surgeries. Twice, in 2008 and 2010, this led to his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) dipping below 1.0, indicating any average player could have replaced him. Both times, he committed rigorously to an increasingly intensive training regimen and came back to be an above-average player the next season.

Three, his love of the game. Watching his trademark 10-pitch at-bats and opposite-field hitting, one could easily discern that his batting average was the pride and joy of his offensive talents, something confirmed by later interviews where he bemoaned the trend toward an all or nothing — “home run or strikeout” — approach.

It wasn’t about the money and it wasn’t about stats, something which was highlighted by his last two seasons. After 2011, his career batting average — his pride and joy — was top five in MLB history since 1950 (or 37th all-time). His degenerative back condition lowered his market value significantly and all but guaranteed his numbers would take a hit as well. With his nine-year contract complete, Helton could have retired. Instead, he took an 80% discount for the chance to play another two seasons.

Those two seasons caused his career batting average to slip to ninth in MLB history since 1950 (or 57th all-time). But it didn’t matter to Helton, because he was forever grateful for every opportunity he had to play 1st base at Coors Field.

Call it hometown bias, but we’re tired of the national sports scene minimizing what our great players achieve in this town. As if altitude is responsible for Helton’s dynamism, endurance and character.

The Rockies may be hopeless these days, but we’ll always have Helton’s salad days to revel in — and now he’s in the Hall of Fame to prove it.

Copyright © 2024 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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