|Todd Helton's heroics were wasted again on Friday.|
On Friday night in San Diego, Helton made up for an earlier error, which allowed the Padres to score the game-tying run, by drilling a Huston Street fastball deep to center field to give the Rockies a 3-2 lead. It wouldn't be enough as Rockies closer Rex Brothers promptly served up a bomb of his own to Chase Headley, who tied the game. It wasn't Brothers night as the Padres got the next two on, then won in walk-off fashion when Jesus Guzman hit a ball just past the third base bag to score the game-winner.
As the final month of Helton's phenomenal career kicks off, the veteran continues to give signs that he might go out in a blaze of glory rather than simply fading away. A week ago, Helton drilled two home runs against the Reds as he raced towards his monumental 2,500 hit mark. Another home run on Wednesday night against the Dodgers gave the Rockies the lead, then the late home run on Friday night. Looking at his last week in a vacuum, it would be tough to believe that Helton's power numbers have fallen off late in his career.
While Helton did his best to help the Rockies win on Friday night, he continued a trend that suggests he leave his power stick on the bat in late innings. On May 31st, Helton took a 12-pitch 9th inning at-bat against Brandon League of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 12th pitch went deep into the right field stands, tying the game at five. The Rockies went on to blow the chance and lost the game late.
On April 29th, 2012, Helton came to the plate as a pinch hitter with his buddy Peyton Manning in the stands. The Rockies had failed to score against the Mets in seven innings. With the bases loaded in the 8th, Helton strode to the plate and drilled the fifth pitch he saw from Tim Byrdak into the seats for a grand slam, suddenly giving the Rockies a tie, and hope to win the game. Instead, the bullpen couldn't keep the Rockies in it, losing in 11 innings.
Maybe it is fitting for Helton. Many of his career accomplishments have been in the shadows instead of the spotlight. Interestingly, Boston Red Sox icon David Ortiz collected his 2,000 hit in the same week that Helton picked up no. 2,500. The difference in coverage was unbelievable. Helton's feat was barely mentioned.
Do a quick Google search on Ortiz and his hall of fame chances and the articles are largely in favor of him being able to find a way in. Do the same for Helton and the results are overwhelmingly against Helton. The main reason for Helton's lack of inclusion is Coors Field. The pundits point to his home field advantage. Despite playing at Fenway Park, it is never mentioned with Ortiz. His home-road splits, despite being large, are largely ignored.
This isn't a debate about Helton vs. Ortiz. Instead, it is pointing out that Helton has had a career that is better than all but about 30 other players in Major League history, but no one knows because no one was told about it. Only fans who pored over box scores know just how good Helton was and has been in his career. Then, those numbers are discounted because of the altitude.
Don't blame the media. They only have a certain amount of time to tell stories, and therefore, their stories focus around things that make them money. The Red Sox make them money. They have more fans, and many more people are interested in them than in a team from a flyover state like Colorado.
The media covers teams that people want to watch. They cover teams that play the game the right way. They cover winners. Don't blame them for not wanting to invest time and effort into covering a team that is perennially one of the worst teams in their own division. This is a team that for many years was Todd Helton and nothing else. When they finally got a few more players, they couldn't put it together for more than a few months at a time. They blew their chances after a miracle run in 2007, then appeared in the playoffs in 2009, but failed to build on it.
That leaves Helton doing much of his work in the dark, outside of the view of many national baseball fans. Whose fault is that? It could be argued that Helton should have asked out. He should have gone to the front office and demanded that they either go sign good players and spend money, or trade him to someone who could use his talent for games in October.
Instead, Helton stood by with the franchise. Maybe he is loyal to a fault, but the greatest player in Rockies history never complained, he just quietly went out and put up his numbers.
Is Helton a Hall-of-Famer? By all non-biased accounts, he is on the fringe. A couple of more solid years like he put up in the early 2000's and he is a no-brainer. However, his back issues created a serious drop off in both power and average. It also caused him to spend more time on the bench, which cost him crucial hits that could have put him closer to 3,000, a number that would make his case less debatable.
Helton has all but said that he is going to retire at season's end. However, a final month where he gets a chance to be sentimental about his career and perhaps a chance to look back on what he has accomplished my put things back in perspective for him. It may convince him that a year of playing pinch-hit, late inning defensive replacement specialist might not be a bad idea. Frankly, many Rockies fans wouldn't be happy if that move were made. The majority, however, would celebrate the move.
The reality is, if Helton were to come back for one more year, would it hurt the Rockies? Would it make them go from contender to basement dweller? If it isn't Helton, it has to be someone. So why not have him on the bench over someone else. The key is to define his role. Don't make him an occassional starter, make him a bench player who gets a start once in a blue moon, less than Jason Giambi got in his final season in purple.
If Helton does call it quits after these final four weeks, fans should be prepared to see the Helton of old for a short stint. They should enjoy the moments while they last, because soon enough it will be over.
When it is over, the Rockies will have a new identity. The reality is that Helton is the final piece that ties the Rockies back to their honeymoon days when the park was sold out every day, when fans were just happy to have baseball in Denver. When he is gone, there will be no more connection to the early days, the first chapter in Rockies history will officially be over.
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