DENVER -- Former Rockies first baseman Todd Helton took a major step toward the Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday.
Hall of Fame voters from the Baseball Writers' Association of America did not grant any player the necessary 75 percent for election, meaning there will be no BBWAA-elected honoree for the first time since 2013. But Helton made significant progress in the third of his 10 eligible years on the ballot.
Helton, who spent his entire 17-year career with Colorado from 1997-2013, was listed on 44.9 percent of ballots, after showing up on 29.2 percent last year. His 15.7-percent increase was the second highest among players on this year's ballot, behind only former third baseman Scott Rolen, who jumped 17.6 percent up to 52.9.
"It's always nice to have an increase -- still a long way to go,” Helton said Tuesday night. “But you've got to look at it as a 10-year race, instead of just this year."
In 2019 (his first year on the ballot), Helton received 16.5 percent of votes. The jump from ’20 to ’21 confirms a pattern. Of players who have received at least 29.2 percent in their second year on the ballot, only three -- Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling -- have not earned election. The other 99 were inducted.
The story of Helton’s candidacy is wrapped in a potential bias against Rockies hitters, because of Denver’s unique atmosphere and the hitter-friendliness of Coors Field. However, Helton has likely been helped by the fact that outfielder Larry Walker, who spent the bulk of his career with Colorado, earned election in 2020, his final year of eligibility.
After the 2020 induction ceremony was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Walker will be honored alongside former shortstop Derek Jeter, former catcher Ted Simmons and longtime MLB Players Association executive director Marvin Miller (posthumously) on July 25 in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“Obviously, I was very proud of him, proud for him,” Helton said of Walker. “It’s just an amazing time in his life, and much deserved.”
Helton’s vote total ranked seventh on the 2021 ballot, behind Schilling (71.1 percent), Bonds (61.8), Clemens (61.6), Rolen (52.9), Omar Vizquel (49.1) and Billy Wagner (46.4).
Helton holds the mantle as the Rockies' greatest player thanks to his club records for games played (2,247), runs scored (1,401), hits (2,519), doubles (592), home runs (369), RBIs (1,406) and walks (1,335). Helton was the first player in Rockies history to have his jersey number (No. 17) retired. Last winter, Colorado announced it will similarly honor Walker (No. 33).
Should Helton eventually make the Hall, he would join 55 current Hall of Famers who spent their entire career with one club. Jeter was the most recent among that group to be elected.
Other than Helton's 17 seasons in the same uniform (“I really enjoyed being at that place -- it’s not like I was handcuffed to the team,” he said), he is most proud of his 592 career doubles.
“I was a gap-to-gap-type hitter,” said Helton, who added that he would love to return to the Rockies' organization in come capacity. “I was not just slapping singles. I was not really a home run hitter. I was a doubles hitter. That’s what I was my whole life. Same thing when I was in the big leagues.”
Helton was one of four players in Major League history with five or more consecutive seasons with a .320 or better batting average and at least 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored. Helton had this run from 1999-2003. The others are all in the Hall of Fame -- Lou Gehrig (1930-37), Babe Ruth (1926-32) and Jimmie Foxx (1932-36).
Helton slashed .316/.414/.539 in his career. Only six players in MLB history -- Gehrig, Ruth, Foxx, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial and Ted Williams -- had equal or better numbers in each of those three categories.