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In 2000, I was obsessed with Todd Helton. The Rockies first baseman was in the midst of one of the greatest seasons in the history of baseball, during which he mashed 42 home runs and notched 147 RBIs. I was nine, and I couldn’t shake the thought of whether or not my idol would be the first player since Ted Williams to hit over .400. I would tune into Rockies broadcasts just to see his at bats, and, if I missed a game, desperately check the box score in the Rocky Mountain News the following morning.
Ultimately, Helton fell short of .400, finishing the season with a .372 batting average—still one of the more impressive things anyone has ever accomplished in a 162-game season. What stung more than those .28 points, though, was the rest of the baseball world’s reaction to his inspired quest: Helton finished fifth in the National League MVP vote that year, despite leading the league in most offensive categories.
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The argument against Helton: Coors Field and the oxygen-starved air in Denver inflated his numbers. It’s a refrain that has been used throughout the first baseman’s storied career. “Helton’s numbers…are so good that nobody knows what to do with them,” baseball writer and historian Bill James wrote in his 2019 Bill James Baseball Handbook. “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…how much.”
During his career, Helton hit 369 home runs and maintained a .316 batting average, recording more than 2,500 hits. He ranks among the all-time leaders in baseball in doubles. Helton finished the year among the top 10 players in on-base percentage in all of baseball in 10 different years. For his career, he ranks 29th overall with an on-base percentage of .414, which puts him on the leaderboard alongside names like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Joe Jackson, Mickey Mantle, and Stan Musial. Helton’s ability to spray hits all over Coors Field kept Rockies fans engaged during abysmal 72-win seasons.
Of course, Helton’s greatness extended well beyond his bat. In his career, Helton collected three Gold Gloves at first base. More importantly, he was at the center of the most iconic moments in the franchise’s history. It was Helton triumphantly lifting both fists in the air as he helped record the final out in the 2007 National League Championship series, sending the Rockies to the team’s first and only World Series appearance. Rockies faithful also remember his walk-off home run against the Los Angeles Dodgers just a few weeks before that, which spurred the Rockies to win 14 of their final 15 games in order to qualify for the playoffs in the first place.
But perhaps the thing I appreciate the most about No. 17’s 17-year career is that he spent it entirely in Colorado. Rockies fans never had to see the greatest player to ever wear the Colorado colors in any other uniform. Ownership came close to trading him to the Boston Red Sox ahead of the magical 2007 season, but thankfully fate intervened, as Helton led the Rockies to the World Series against that very team. “They throttled us,” Helton later said. “But I think making it with the team I struggled with and watched and helped build and put my heart and soul into for all those years—losing in the World Series [with the Rockies] meant more than winning it somewhere else.”
Throughout his career, Helton was a broken record, singing the praises of Colorado. Such loyalty is hard to come by in baseball, where players jump ship for the highest bidder every off-season. Others are flipped to contenders every summer as the losers fold their hands. Even Larry Walker—the only other player to wear a Rockies cap in Cooperstown—split his career between three teams. So in that way, it’s been a gut punch to Rockies fans that the argument keeping the first baseman out of Cooperstown is his supposed home-field advantage.
All of that made what happened a few weeks ago, when Helton was officially elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, particularly vindicating for Rockies fans like myself. “In researching the matter further, I learned playing at altitude was a double-edged sword,” baseball writer Ken Rosenthal said. “It fatigues players. It also makes them more vulnerable to pitches that move differently on the road.” That change in mindset helped Helton’s support among Hall of Fame voters balloon from 16.5 percent in 2019, his first year on the ballot, to above the 75 percent threshold needed to get into Cooperstown this year.
It felt like the entire baseball world finally recognized what I’ve known since I was a kid: Todd Helton was one of the greatest baseball players—ever.