|Todd Helton takes far too much criticism.|
For years, when Todd Helton was in his prime, I thought that the only thing that would hold him back from Cooperstown was the perception from national writers who discounted his Coors Field numbers. As Helton aged, however, the critics weren't coming from that national writers, but instead, the local media who ignored his career in the early 2000's.
As Helton aged, the local critics became louder and louder, even upon his retirement, the amount of people who criticized him for his diminishing numbers as his career wound down became larger and larger and louder and louder.
For those who were around during the worst years of the Rockies, but the best years of Helton's career, it was baffling. Helton was truly the first great player in franchise history, and suddenly the critics were outnumbering the fans.
While no one watched a terrible Rockies team in the early 2000's, Helton was racking up numbers that had never been seen in the history of baseball. He become the first player in the long history of the game to accumulate at least 35 doubles in 10 straight seasons. He was an All-Star in five consecutive seasons. For his career, Helton owned a .953 OBP, a number, which for reference, is Hall of Fame worthy in and of itself.
Here is the problem that seemed to plague Helton's career. Every time he did something phenomenal, something else overshadowed it.
In 1998, Helton put up some of the best numbers that had been seen from a rookie batter in that National League in years. However, Kerry Wood struck out 20 batters in his Cubs debut, then 18 his next time out. Those outings propelled Wood to win the Rookie of the Year award, despite Helton's incredible season.
Take a look at Helton's 2000 season. While racking up 216 hits, batting an incredible .372, leading the league with a .463 on-base percentage, smacking 42 home runs and driving in 147 runs, Helton not only didn't win the National League MVP award, he finished all the way in 5th place, garnering only one first place vote. One.
Keep in mind, in 2000, Helton was batting over .400 well into August. Coors Field or not, if someone can hit anywhere near .400 at the big league level, they are an incredible hitter. While the critics would be quick to point out that the damage was done at Coors Field, it must be remembered that the Rockies first baseman hit .353 away from Coors Field.
Helton, despite not winning the MVP was starting to gain some recognition for what he was accomplishing. However, as his momentum was building, the Rockies were fading. In 2000, the club was close to being good. They won 82 games and it seemed like they were headed in the right direction. As the calendar turned to 2001, the Rockies couldn't keep their momentum going. In 2001 the Rockies finished 73-89, a record that they would nearly match for four straight seasons.
The Rockies losing any site of competitiveness put Helton on the back burner. His numbers were lost on a team that didn't get seen on ESPN and preceded the days of MLB Network where fans are able to see teams that aren't in their market on a more regular basis.
In 2005, Helton's body showed the first signs of betraying him. He was forced to go to the hospital with a sickness that couldn't be figured out. After several nights in the hospital, he was diagnosed with a form of Crohn's Disease. He came back too quickly and never fully recovered the 15 lbs that he lost while in the hospital. He still hit .320, but he hit only 20 home runs and had only 79 RBIs, a far cry from his past numbers.
For the Rockies, the honeymoon was over. People were ready for a contender. What they quickly realized was that Helton was earning $16 million per year, and therefore in their mind's wasn't earning that kind of cash. Instead of looking at the early years of his career in which he was a perennial All-Star and was well underpaid, they saw an aging veteran who was in decline making a ton of money. The problem was, they weren't paying attention when Helton was absolutely dominant.
The other issue with getting upset about someone's salary is that it shows a certain ignorance about baseball. In Denver, there is no denying that the Broncos and the NFL dominate the radio waves all year round. When someone mentions Helton's salary as a reason why the team wasn't successful, they fail to realize that Major League Baseball doesn't live in a salary cap world. If an owner points to one player's salary as the reason that they can't succeed, they have no one to blame but themselves.
The Rockies didn't overspend on Helton, they made terrible decisions to sign both Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle. Those signings set them back for years.
The reality is, Helton was one of the top five players in baseball for a seven-year stretch. Was he overpaid at the end of his career, yes. However, why do fans care how much money a player makes? Why does it matter if a player is overpaid. His salary shouldn't determine the expectations that a team and it's fan base has on that player. If a player signs a big contract, it doesn't change who that player is and what kind of numbers they produce. It is still the same guy, just getting paid more.
Those who are anti-Helton show their ignorance. They missed the great years, and it wasn't just a couple of them, it was eight of them. The issue of Helton being a Hall-of-Famer is something that can be debated, and he may or may not be worthy. However, the fact that he was the greatest player in Rockies history, who deserves to be celebrated should never be debated.
It is simply stupid for members of the media to dog Helton. He was a great player and deserves to be honored and revered by the Rockies and their fans.
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