|Todd Helton will quietly finish his career next month.|
As Denver and the rest of Colorado turn their eyes towards the Broncos and their chances of winning the Super Bowl, the Colorado Rockies will play out the final string of games with barely any fanfare. It is a common scenario.
This season, however, is different. Helton has all but announced that he won't be returning to the team next year, fading into retirement with no party, no honorary Todd Helton day, no hoopla and very little talk about it. In some ways, it seems like a slap in the face to the guy who owns every offensive record in club history, and will for a long time. In other ways, it seems like the perfect way for a guy like Helton to go out.
There is no arguing that Helton's better days are long behind him. The fans that jumped on the Rockies bandwagon during the 2007 run never got to see the Helton that quietly put up numbers that no one in the game of baseball had put up. Those days came when the Rockies were seeking an identity and Helton was the only player worthy of purchasing a ticket to see.
The majority of Rockies fans view Helton as the guy with the bloated contract who can't play three days in a row. They see him as the guy their Dad likes, but they don't really know why. He can't catch up to fastballs anymore and he plays a position that requires far more power than 10 or 15 home runs. Sure, he plays great defense, but why does this franchise hold him so dear?
The sad reality is that a guy like Helton put up some of the most jaw-dropping numbers in the history of the game when everyone in Denver was waiting for a winner, focusing on the Broncos, and wishing the team would spend money in free agency. Outside of Denver, baseball fans were busy discounting the crazy stats because apparently playing at Coors Field is equivalent to playing on the moon.
Frankly, the analysts who point to Helton being a product of Coors Field fall into one category: Lazy. Look at Helton's numbers in 2000, a year he finished 5th in the National League MVP voting. He hit .353 with a .441 OBP. He slugged .633 and his OPS was a ridiculous 1.074. He had 31 double. Those are his numbers AWAY from Coors Field in 2000. Sound like a product of his environment?
Of course, that was just one season. In his career he is a .289 hitter away from Coors Field. Many people like to point at that number for what Helton would be if he wasn't a Rockie. The problem with that argument is that the vast majority of players are better hitters at home. Very rarely does a guy hit the exact same on the road as they do at home. Ted Williams was a .361 hitter at home and .328 hitter on the road. No one called him a product of Fenway.
Many of Helton's fans are very upset at the lack of coverage his career received. There was no reason for the national media to swing into Denver during his good years because the team was done before the Broncos started two-a-days, and when the Rockies did deserve attention, other stars had emerged as the leaders of the Rockies.
With Helton just four hits away from 2,500 for his career, putting him 91st on the all-time list, his odds of making the Hall of Fame are starting to be explored. Jerry Crasnick of ESPN wrote a piece on exactly that. Had Helton avoided back issues, it is almost certain that he would be near or above 3,000 hits and well over 400 home runs. Even with Coors Field in the picture, those numbers would probably be enough. However, with Coors Field looming, the best player in franchise history faces long odds.
Helton's fans know and appreciate just how good he was. They know that for a six-year stretch there was simply no one better. They believe that dominating the game for a stretch that long, and hanging around long enough to rack up stats like Helton has should be enough for Cooperstown to call his name. However, there are many who completely disagree.
The debate, however, probably won't go too far. The Todd Helton that fans have come to know over his 17 seasons won't be starting any campaigns. He won't be be lobbying any writers to punch his name. In fact, the Helton that those in Denver know probably would almost prefer not to make the Hall of Fame because, really, wouldn't his speech be the most awkward in Cooperstown history. Almost certainly it would be the shortest.
Helton may not get into the Hall of Fame. Those who saw his whole career generally agree that he should eventually get in, if it were fair. However, that debate might spoil an opportunity that fans have for the final five weeks of the season. With just a handful of games to go, Helton will be finishing out a remarkable career. Fans should take it in. Watch him in his final at-bats, realize that even if he isn't Cooperstown bound that he will forever live in the Rockies history books. He is a legend playing out his final games and fans should take some time to acknowledge that.
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