How Will Todd Helton be Remembered?
For 17 seasons, he wore number 17 with pride. For 17 seasons, he was only twice surrounded by a team capable of winning it all. Through it all, though, he stuck with the same organization.
After 17 seasons with the Colorado Rockies and Major League Baseball, Todd Helton is calling it quits.
How will he be remembered?
Before injuries began to derail his career in 2008, Todd Helton had put up consistently good numbers. He was the 8th overall selection in the 1995 draft. Because his debut came so late in 1997, his rookie season was 1998.
In his first full season, Helton hit .315/.380/.530 while adding 37 doubles, 25 home runs and 97 RBI. Those numbers were good enough to earn himself 2nd place in the Rookie of the Year voting, behind Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood.
His following season proved 1998 was no fluke. Helton showed improvement (.320/.395/.587) while also notching more doubles (39), home runs (35) and RBI (113).
It was the 2000, though, that marked a career year for Helton. He led all of baseball in batting average (.372), on-base percentage (.463), slugging percentage (.698), OPS (1.162), doubles (59) and RBI (147). He also led the National League in hits (216) and WAR (8.86).
Sure-fire MVP, right? Well no, not quite.
His career numbers are nothing to scoff at. His slash lines stand at .316/.414/.539 with 2,509 hits, 588 doubles, 368 home runs, and 1398 RBI.
You see, Helton's great career is marred by one very unfortunate circumstance: he spent all of it with the Colorado Rockies. As it pertains to the year 2000, the Rockies finished the season with a record of 82-80, good enough for 4th in the NL West (out of 5 teams). Jeff Kent of the San Francisco Giants won the MVP that season with teammate Barry Bonds right behind him. Rounding out the Top 4: Mike Piazza, catcher for the New York Mets, and Jim Edmonds, center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals.
So what did Kent, Bonds, Piazza and Edmonds all have in common? They all played for playoff teams.
The Giants won the NL West, the Mets took 2nd in the NL East (eventually making it to the World Series), and the Cardinals won the NL Central. The Rockies finished 2nd-last in their division. Is it Helton's fault that his team wasn't competitive? Certainly not. However, it clearly pays to play for a contender.
And so the story went for Helton and his Colorado Rockies. His career numbers are nothing to scoff at. His slash lines stand at .316/.414/.539 with 2,509 hits, 588 doubles, 368 home runs, and 1398 RBI. He's also walked more than he's struck out (1,334 walks to 1,166 strikeouts).
He finished in the Top 10 for MVP voting on three separate occasions and up until 2008 was as consistent of a player as anyone could ask for.
From 2000 through 2004, Helton earned all of his Silver Slugger awards (4), Gold Gloves (3), and All-Star game appearances (5). From 1998 through 2007, he played in at least 144 games per season.
In 2008, a back injury surfaced and limited him to just 83 games. He rebounded in 2009, playing in 151 games and posting lines of .325/.416/.489. 2010 brought with it more back pain and another disappointing season.
While rebounding to post numbers of .302/.385/.466 in just 124 games during the 2011 season, it was clear Helton was not the same player that made him a household name in the early-to-mid 2000s.
A hip injury put him on the disabled list early in 2012, and he returned to play in just 69 games before undergoing hip surgery, effectively ending his season.
On Sept. 1, at age 40, Helton notched his 2,500th career hit. The 2007 season was the only season in his career the Rockies managed to make an appearance in the World Series. They were swept in four games by the Boston Red Sox.
Is Todd Helton Hall of Fame material?
Pat Graham of the Associated Press believes so, but it's clear that many will find it tough to justify letting Helton into the HOF because of this: He played with the Rockies his entire career, whose home ballpark is Coors Field, which happens to be the very definition of a hitter-friendly ballpark.
Many will argue the altitude of Coors Field inflated his statistics, and while his statistics at home are staggering compared to those away from home (.345/.441/.606 at Coors Field, .287/.386/.856 away from Coors Field), I am firmly of the belief that no matter where you play, you still have to hit the ball.
Todd Helton did just that in his 17 years at the major-league level. While his slugging percentage and home run totals would have undoubtedly been lesser had he played in a different home ballpark, Helton still hit for a respectable average year in and year out.
Am I saying he's a sure-fire HOFer? No. I'm simply saying he didn't have control over where he played baseball, just how he played baseball. For the majority of 17 seasons, Todd Helton played baseball very well.
On Saturday, Sept. 14, Helton confirmed that he'd be retiring at the end of the season. On Thursday, Sept. 19, Helton showed that despite being an old dog, he still knew how to fool the youngsters.
Todd Helton isn't Mariano Rivera. He won't be remembered as such, and he won't be held as highly in regard. There's no arguing he wasn't a special ballplayer, though.
On his retirement, Helton stated: "Obviously you have some regrets. I always feel and think I could have done more for the team. I wish I could have done everything a little better. I wish we had won more. But I am not going to let it worry me or cause me to not sleep at night. I know I gave it everything I had."
It's just unfortunate he didn't get more in return.