Todd Helton’s journey toward Hall of Fame resumes Monday
The ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s class of 2021 will be released Monday.
Rockies great Todd Helton will be on the ballot for the third time and could see a bump in support when the Class of 2021 is announced Jan. 21. That’s because last January, Larry Walker, Helton’s former teammate, finally overcame the stigma of Coors Field and was voted into the Class of 2020.
Walker’s election, albeit in his final year of eligibility, should prop open the door for Helton. Right?
“That, I really have no idea about,” Helton said from his home in his native Knoxville, Tenn.
Helton can be, notoriously, a man of few words, especially when he’s talking about himself. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about his induction into Cooperstown’s hallowed halls.
“It’s not something I think about all of the time, but I’d be lying if I said it’s not something that’s important to me,” the five-time all-star first baseman said.
Make no mistake, Helton’s path to the Hall of Fame is a steep climb. Still, his jump in votes from 2019 to 2020 was encouraging. Helton received 16.5% in his first year on the ballot and jumped 29.2% in his second, a leap of 66%.
Walker, by contrast, garnered between 10.2% and 22.9% during his first seven years of eligibility before increasing to 34.1% in 2018, 54.6% in 2019, and finally 76.6% in 2020 when he cleared the 75% needed for induction.
When Walker was elected last January, he didn’t shy away from talking about the stigma of playing baseball in Denver’s mile-high altitude, and he hoped he had paved the way for Helton.
“The year I won MVP (1997), I thought it was a great thing for Colorado Rockies players as well and took away that mess about playing there and the negatives that go into it,” Walker said. “Hopefully this does work for Todd. Obviously, he’s very Hall of Fame worthy.”
Helton lets others debate his credentials, but he’s willing to point out two things about his career.
“The thing I am most proud of is that I showed up every day, ready to play hard,” he said. “I’m also very proud of how many doubles I hit.”
His 592 career doubles rank as the 19th-most in history. He was also the first player ever to record 35 doubles in 10 consecutive seasons.
Helton posted a career slash line of .316/.414/.539, which puts him in elite company. Only six players in big-league history have posted equal or higher averages in each category: Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. All of them are in the Hall of Fame.
What’s more, during his spectacular run from 1999-2003, Helton became one of only four players in major league history with five or more consecutive seasons of a .320 or better batting average, 30 or more home runs, 100 or more RBIs and 100 or more runs scored. The others? Gehrig (1930-37), Ruth (1926-32) and Foxx (1932-36).
Those who have argued against Helton’s bid for the Hall of Fame typically point out two main factors. First, Helton’s numbers tailed off significantly in the back half of his career. From 2005-1013 he averaged just 13 home runs per season with a high of 20 in 2005.
Second, Helton’s career home/road splits are dramatic. He posted a .345/.441/.607 slash line and hit 227 of his 369 career homers at Coors Field. Helton’s road numbers were solid — .287/.386/.469 with 142 home runs — but not spectacular. But consider this: Helton’s career .855 OPS away from Coors Field is better than the road marks of several Hall of Famers, including Dave Winfield (.841), Eddie Murray (.838), Rickey Henderson (.836), Tony Gwynn (.835), Al Kaline (.827) and George Brett (.825).
Sabermetric pioneer Bill James weighed in on the Helton debate in his 2019 Baseball Handbook.
“Helton’s numbers … are SO good that nobody knows what to do with them,” James wrote. “Helton played not only in a very high-run era, but also in a hitter’s paradise. People know intuitively that his numbers are misleading and you need to let some of the air out of them, but they don’t know intuitively how much.
“(But) even if you adjust for the context, Todd Helton was a Hall of Famer.”
Rockies owner Dick Monfort, who remains close to Helton, also believes the first baseman’s numbers are worthy of Cooperstown, but that’s not the only reason he wants to see him inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“We all know the rigors of playing at Coors Field and in Denver,” said Monfort, who made the decision to retire Helton’s No. 17. “We all know that it challenges you when you play seven games in Denver and then have to play seven games somewhere else, and it’s easy to let that get into your head and make you complain.
“But a true, consummate Hall of Fame player never lets that get in his way. You never look for excuses. You go out and pack your lunch bucket and you go play. Todd was all of that. Probably more so than anybody we have ever had in the organization. Todd was the face of this franchise and he made us proud.”
Helton’s Hall of Fame Case
Todd Helton played his entire 17-year career with the Rockies, batting .316, with 2,519 hits, 592 doubles, 369 home runs, 1,401 runs and 1,406 RBIs. He won the 2000 National League batting title with a .372 average while leading the league in slugging percentage (.698), on-base (.463) and OPS (1.162). He finished in the top 10 of NL MVP voting three times (2000, ’01 and ’03), was a five-time all-star selection and won three Gold Gloves as a first baseman. Some key statistics that could land Helton in the Hall of Fame:
* Career OPS of .953 is 19th best in MLB history
* 592 career doubles ranks 19th all-time
* 998 extra-base hits ranks 40th all-time
* First player ever to record 35 doubles per season for 10 consecutive seasons
* From 1997-2013, led all NL first basemen with 2,247 games played
* 1,726 career assists are the second most for a first baseman all-time
* 2,038 double plays turned are the third most for a first baseman all-time
* Led NL in double plays turned by a first baseman six times
— Patrick Saunders, The Denver Post
Coors Field Factor
There is no doubt that Todd Helton was more productive at hitter-friendly Coors Field than he was on the road. That fact is likely to hurt his Hall of Fame chances among some voters. It should be noted, however, that Helton’s career road OPS of .855 is higher than the career road OPS of many Hall of Famers, including Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, Tony Gwynn, Andre Dawson, Paul Molitor, Wade Boggs, Jim Rice and Harold Baines. Here are his career home/road splits: