DENVER — When Todd Helton retired a few days after he was gifted a horse in late-September 2013, I thought it was a shame a hitter that great for that long would not likely make the Baseball Hall of Fame.
As great a hitter as he was from 1999-2004, when he averaged – averaged -- .344 with 37 homers and 121 RBIs over that six-season stretch, I figured Helton would fall short of Hall of Fame induction for two reasons.
One, I thought his career numbers of 2,519 hits and 369 home runs were a tad short in what long had been the two most crucial yardsticks for Cooperstown. For the longest time – most of my lifetime to show how long -- if a ballplayer didn't have either 3,000 hits or 500 homers, he better have an extenuating asset or two for his election into immortality. If not for a bad back that first cost Helton his power in the second half of his career, and then his tough-out stroke in his last two years, he may well have reached both milestones.
The second reason I figured the Hall of Fame would elude Helton was his 2000 season. I was the Rockies' beat writer for the Denver Post that year and had the objective honor (huh?) of covering Helton's season every day. It was simply one of the most dominant individual hitting seasons in Major League Baseball history to that point.
Helton hit .512 in the month of May that year. Not in the slo-pitch men's softball league. In 23 major-league games in May he hit .512 with 11 homers and 18 walks against 9 strikeouts. Through 131 games, Teddy Ballgame – the Splendid Splinter – was in trouble as Helton entered September with a .395 batting average.
Toddzilla! I called him in the same summer the overly-hyped Godzilla movie hit theatres in what turned out to be the greatest nickname that never caught on.
Alas, the pressure of hitting .400 for the first time since 1941 got to Helton for a week or two but he still finished the season by leading the majors by wide margins with a .372 batting average, 147 RBIs and 59 doubles to go along with 42 home runs. He hit .353 on the road -- .353 away from Coors Field -- and he belted a game-winning homer off the Atlanta Braves' then unhittable closer John Rocker in the season finale to cap the Rockies' 82-80 season.
"Oh, heck yeah he's the MVP, no question," Atlanta first baseman Andres Galarraga told me after that final game even though "The Big Cat" three years earlier was essentially pushed out of Colorado by the young left-handed hitting phenom Helton. "I know they talk a lot about how your team has to be in the playoffs, but what he did this year was amazing. I wouldn't care if he was on a last-place team, he's the MVP. And he hit good on the road, too, right?"
But in a great injustice, Helton only finished fifth in the National League MVP balloting.
Barry Bonds would surpass Helton's single-season dominance in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. But Bonds was correctly named the league's MVP each of those four years. Helton's incredible season only got him fifth place. Even with a .353 average on the road, Helton couldn't shake the perception that Coors Field unfairly inflated his hitting stats.
Even with the occasionally corrective humidor installed in 2002, I figured Hall of Fame voters would hold Coors Field against Helton.
My pessimism appeared confirmed in 2019 when Helton received but 16.5% of Hall of Fame votes in his first year of eligibility. Little did we know, Cooperstown's doors started to crack open that same year with the senior committee election of Harold Baines.
Baines spent roughly two-thirds of his career as a DH, and batted .289 on 2,866 hits and 384 home runs. Helton as a three-time Gold Glove first baseman with a .316 batting average along with those 2,519 hits and 369 home runs seemed HOF-worthy by comparison.
His HOF voting totals rose to 29.2% in 2020 – when former Rockies teammate Larry Walker was elected with 359 fewer hits than Helton and a 3-point lower batting average – then 44.9% in 2021 and 52% in 2022.
Now come voting surveys leading into the Hall of Fame announcement Tuesday that indicate Helton has a good chance of attaining the 75% voter threshold for election. If Helton does happen to get the HOF nod Tuesday, his 2000 season as part of a remarkable six-season batting run will have at long last received its due.
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