Rockies Journal: Todd Helton, at 50, is on Hall of Fame’s doorstep

Todd Helton played his final game Sept. 29, 2013, at Dodger Stadium. Nearly 10 years ago.

He turns 50 on Sunday.

It doesn’t seem possible.

Helton returned to Coors Field on Saturday as part of the Rockies’ season-long 30th-anniversary celebration. Helton was, well, Helton.

No. 17 hates talking about himself, and he’s never been comfortable in front of TV cameras, but he answered questions while sitting in the Rockies dugout surrounded by reporters, microphones and cameras. His dry, deadpan sense of humor broke through a couple of times. But mostly, Helton kept things low-key.

Asked if he was tempted to “go take some hacks” with the current Rockies during batting practice, he replied, “Not at all. I haven’t thrown a ball or picked up a bat in 10 years.”

I asked him the obligatory questions about his likely induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame next year after coming up just 11 votes short this year.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think about it, because I do,” he said. “But it’s also something I can’t control, so I don’t think about it much. If it happens, I’ll be blessed and grateful and every other adjective you can think of, but until then I just go about my life.”

Following up, I asked how cool would it be to go into the Hall of Fame having played his entire 17-year career with the Rockies.

“We’ll talk about that if the day comes,” he said.

Helton was always adept at fouling off pitches he didn’t like, and equally skilled at dismissing questions.

We’ll know in January if Helton is elected. If he is, he’ll be inducted July 21, in Cooperstown, N.Y.

There are a gazillion stats I can recite about why Helton belongs in Cooperstown, but one sticks with me. Only four players in major league history have posted five consecutive seasons with a .320 batting average, 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored: Lou Gehrig, eight consecutive seasons (1930–1937); Babe Ruth, seven (1926–1932);  Jimmie Foxx, five (1932–1936); and Helton, five (1999–2003). Gehrig, Ruth and Foxx are all in the Hall of Fame.

If it sounds like I’m rooting for No. 17, I am. Not just because he was a superb hitter and one of the best fielding first basemen in baseball history (he deserved more than three Gold Gloves), but because he is a Colorado icon.

He was beloved by his teammates and respected by his opponents. He played with passion and also played hurt.

During his playing days, Helton could be moody and difficult with the media. I once wrote that he was “an irascible grizzly bear.” The next day he came up to me and said, “Irascible? Is that good or bad?” He knew darn well what it meant, but he loved yanking my chain.

As a sportswriter, you don’t root for the teams you cover, but you can’t help but root for some of the players you come to know. For me, Helton is that player.

A quick, personal story will let you know a little bit about Helton.

Years ago, when the Rockies still held spring training at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Ariz., I managed to finagle a field pass for my wife, Nancy. During batting practice, I introduced her to Helton. He gave her a big hug, making her feel like a million bucks.

After he took his turn in the batting cage and jogged around the bases, he returned to where Nancy and I were standing. He looked me up and down a few times, then said to Nancy, “You mean, you have to go home with this tonight?”

Helton paused, and then said, “You mean to tell me you have to sleep with this guy tonight?”

When Nancy laughed and said yes, Helton walked over to her, put his arms around her, and said, “I’m so sorry. You need another hug.”

Want more Rockies news? Sign up for the Rockies Insider to get all our MLB analysis.

Source: Read Full Article