Today’s sports world is cutthroat. Turnover happens often and it is becoming extremely difficult for fans to keep up with their team’s rosters. It seems as though every season ushers in new faces. For the Colorado Rockies, one face has remained as present as the Rocky Mountains that overlook Denver. Todd Helton first took the field for the Colorado Rockies in 1997, and has covered first base full-time since 1998. Halfway through his seventeenth season, Denver could not have imagined what Todd Helton would become.
Todd Helton, age 39, is reaching the end of his career; a career worthy of Cooperstown over-shadowed by bigger market names on bigger market teams. A career that receives more recognition for being the teammate of Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee than the numbers Helton has put up as a baseball player in Colorado. A career spent in one city, in one uniform for 17 years. A career built quietly, in the shadows of the Rockies.
Helton has earned 5 All-Star Appearances, 4 Silver Slugger Awards, 3 Gold Gloves, and a NL Batting Crown. He yields a career batting line of .318/.417/.541. With 2,464 hits, 360 home runs, 577 doubles, and 1,374 RBI, nothing short of an offensive machine. The most telling statistic of Todd Helton’s career is his 2,183 games played. As what is expected to be his last season winds down, these numbers will grow. Scan the Colorado Rockies record books and it is no surprise that Todd Helton’s name is atop almost every hitting statistic kept.
With his bushy goatee and number 17 jersey, Todd Helton has become the face of the Colorado Rockies franchise. Up until the past two seasons, Helton’s bat was one of the most respected in baseball. Standing upright, his left handed swing became the foundation of the Rockies lineup. Through the 2000s, no hitter deserving of accolade and attention was more underappreciated and uncelebrated than Todd Helton.
Playing in Denver shielded most of baseball from Todd Helton. Known and revered for their football team, Denver’s relatively young Rockies franchise was the perfect place for an All-Star slugger to quietly overachieve. As Helton has continued to produce at the plate, the talk of his place in history continues to remain undetermined. Hidden in a small market, many argue that the Mile High Theory is an explanation for his consistent numbers; with a spacious outfield and that thin atmosphere, many argue his 360 career home runs and 577 doubles would be less inflated had he played elsewhere. Just another reason Todd Helton’s name often goes unmentioned when talking about some of the game’s best hitters.
Throughout his career, Todd Helton has remained an afterthought. When the best hitting first basemen in the game gets discussed, too often his name is left out. Attention dominated by the likes of Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, and Jim Thome, Todd Helton never seemed to garner the conversation he deserved. Today, Helton’s bat has faded. Now he finds himself lost in a new set of shadows. Shadows cast by Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, and Chris Davis.
Helton will never regain the form he had throughout the 2000s. During that decade he hit a remarkable .327, which included only one season hitting below .300 and a season hitting .372, earning him an NL batting title. He racked up his 4 Silver Slugger and 3 Golden Glove awards during this time span as well. Few can deny that Todd Helton’s 2000-2009 was one of the most consistent and productive seasons for any major league hitter in history.
Todd Helton’s name will appear on a ballot for Cooperstown. However, the consensus on his joining baseball’s legends is not clear. His numbers are impressive. However, thriving in a small pond and not being overly popular amongst media and fans have hurt Helton’s legacy. Many writers refuse to embrace the legitimacy of Helton’s stat line based upon the Mile High Theory.
Having spent a career performing in the shadows of more popular first basemen Todd Helton has not been a household name, but you won’t hear him complain about it. He continues to quietly cover first base in his soon to be retired number 17 jersey and sporting that trademark bushy goatee. And although his frame, standing upright on the left side of the plate doesn’t strike fear into opposing pitchers like it used to, one look at his body of work and you realize you are watching one of the greatest hitting first basemen in the history of baseball.