DENVER -- No matter the odds, Todd Helton has a way of coming through in ways that last forever. He fell just short of earning a spot in the National Baseball Hall of Fame when voting results were announced on Tuesday. But he drew closer.
Helton received a vote on 72.2 percent of the 389 ballots from Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters -- a dramatic jump from last year’s 52 percent and just 11 votes shy of the 75 percent threshold necessary for induction. Helton still is in line to become the second player with the Rockies’ logo on his plaque. Larry Walker received 76.6 percent of the votes in 2020 and was enshrined in ’21.
Former Phillies, Cardinals, Blue Jays and Reds third baseman Scott Rolen was the only player to earn induction through BBWAA voting this year, showing up on 76.3 percent of ballots. He and Fred McGriff, selected by the 16-member Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee, will be inducted this summer in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“I’m disappointed, but it’s something I can’t control,” Helton said from his home in Knoxville, Tenn.
Ever the quipster, Helton -- when asked how nervous he was Tuesday -- said he was “more nervous than I should’ve been.”
Much like his magical home run against the Dodgers in September 2007 -- the big blow that pointed the Rockies to a World Series appearance that will forever be special -- Helton has a way of turning odds in his favor. Of the players who have shown up on at least 70 percent of ballots, only former pitcher Curt Schilling did not eventually earn enough votes for election.
“I’m just thankful for the people that voted for me this year,” Helton said. “I don’t think about one way or the other. Just hope and pray for next year.”
If you want to know about Helton and long odds, just click on this video from Sept. 18, 2007.
It was the second game of what many thought would be a forgettable doubleheader at Coors Field. The Rockies had beaten the Dodgers in the first game, but Colorado entered the bottom of the ninth trailing by one and facing closer Takashi Saito, who had held them hitless all year. Matt Holliday set the table by fighting off a pitch for a single. Then, Helton launched a 1-2 pitch over the out-of-town scoreboard in right.
To all others, it was a rare time the plucky Colorado club topped its Los Angeles tormentor. But the Rockies knew something others didn’t. Players stayed at their locker until Helton finished triumphant on-field interviews, then gave their leader a standing ovation. Anything -- winning 17 of 18 to close out the regular season, 21 of 22 to win the National League championship -- was possible thanks to a swing of Helton’s bat.
Helton’s role in the Rockies’ surge took him from an often-overlooked star in an oft-ignored time zone to a recognized leader of a contending squad, which would go to the postseason twice in three seasons. While one moment doesn’t make a Cooperstown career, it certainly helps.
Also helping Helton is the successful candidacy of Walker, who spent the bulk of his career with Colorado. National media, with many members being Hall voters, long dismissed any achievement of a Rockies player as a byproduct of baseball’s greatest hitting environment. But the numbers that showed Walker was at least the equal of many Hall of Famers on the road simply didn’t lie. Walker made it in the final year of his eligibility.
Helton, too, has dealt with anti-Coors sentiment -- an attitude that is ignorant to the difference in how the ball acts, both out of the pitcher’s hand and through the air, and the constant toll that going in and out of the thinner atmosphere takes on the body.
This was never more evident than in his breakout year of 2000, when Helton led the National League in (warning: the list is long) hits (216), doubles (59), RBIs (147), batting average (.372), on-base percentage (.463), slugging percentage (.698), OPS (1.162) and total bases (405). His 8.9 Wins Above Replacement (per Baseball-Reference) also led the NL.
Yet, it wasn’t only that the NL MVP Award went to the Giants’ Jeff Kent -- who did not make the Hall in his 10th and final year on the BBWAA ballot despite some passionate arguments -- it was that Helton finished fifth.
But the world has learned. In 2007, Helton lifted the Rockies to heights they never dreamed before and haven’t touched since. Soon, Helton will be overlooked no more.
During the five-year span from 2000-04 during which Helton was selected as an All-Star each season, his 160 OPS+ ranked third in the NL behind Barry Bonds (241) and Albert Pujols (167). From 2000-05, his bWAR of 42.1 was exceeded only by Alex Rodriguez (52.9) and Barry Bonds (51.7).
Back injuries slowed Helton’s offensive production. But for his entire career, 1997-2013, he was demonstrably the game’s best first baseman. He led the NL in games played with 2,247 -- far ahead of Derrek Lee’s 1,857. He also led first basemen in runs (1,401), hits (2,519), doubles (592), triples (37), RBI (1,406) and walks (1,335), and was second in home runs (369).
And Helton is closer than ever to Cooperstown.