Helton's election to Hall prompts signature fist pump

Rockies icon earns spot in Cooperstown in 6th year on ballot

January 24th, 2024

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Once upon a time, thrust his fist skyward, and Rockies nation rose with it to unprecedented and since-unmatched heights.

When Helton’s fist went up as his phone rang on Tuesday afternoon, he ascended into baseball immortality.

Not long after answering the call, Helton pumped his fist again, confirming that he had been elected to the 2024 Baseball Hall of Fame class. Shortly thereafter, there were tears and hugs with his wife, Christy, and daughters, Tierney Faith and Gentry Grace. He shared a special moment with his mother, Martha, who later said, “I didn’t see any of this happening until it happened -- I was just happy he was out there playing ball, and he liked it.”

He loved it and, in his sixth year of eligibility, voters from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America showed Helton love in return. After finishing 11 votes shy of the 75 percent threshold last year, Helton appeared on 79.7 percent of this year’s ballots.

The memorable long-ago fist pump occurred on Sept. 18, 2007. Helton’s walk-off homer against the Dodgers’ Takashi Saito, whom Colorado had barely touched previously, completed a doubleheader sweep that propelled the Rockies to wins in 14 of their final 15 regular-season games and 21 of 22 overall until they were swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.

In his spacious living room on Tuesday, the years melted away. Just like during the magical Rocktober run of 2007, Helton, 50, smiled so broadly he could barely speak, folded his arms and rocked foot to foot. The whole time, then and now, he joyfully winced as if reality had surpassed dream.

But how’s this for reality? During Helton’s welcome-to-the-Hall call, the clock in his home ticked to 5:17 EDT -- fitting for the Rockies’ forever No. 17, who spent all 17 seasons of his career with Colorado.

“It’s just too good a thing to happen to me, I guess,” Helton said. “It’s the greatest honor you can get as a baseball player. To me, getting your number retired as a player and making the Hall of Fame are the two greatest achievements you can get.

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m way happier than I’m letting on … I’m going to go crazy later on.”

Helton will join Adrián Beltré, who enters on the first ballot after receiving 95.1 percent of the vote, and longtime Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who appeared on 76.1 percent of ballots in his first year, as players being inducted into the Hall of Fame on July 21 in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Managerial legend Jim Leyland, who managed Helton during his 1999 stop in Colorado, was elected by the Contemporary Era Baseball Committee last December and will be inducted with the players in July.

The vote ended weeks -- years, really -- of ballot-by-ballot social media updates, and the accompanying debate of the worth of offensive numbers of a player who called Coors Field home. Larry Walker’s election in 2020 was believed to have ended the debate. More arguments sprouted like weeds from unattended online soil, but BBWAA voters’ heads and hearts saw Helton as an all-time great.

But unlike last year, Helton took in none of it.

During his career, Helton never met a superstition he couldn’t adopt. He could change the position of the cuff of his pants or his facial hair, or raid a teammate’s bat supply, if he thought it would find him a hit. All that ended when he retired after the 2013 season.

But after coming as close as he did last year, Helton cast himself to a ritual of avoiding the Hall of Fame noise.

“I didn’t look at anything, watch anything, didn’t read the internet,” he said. “I did last year.”

He tried to be his adult, rational self on Tuesday when he looked at the big screen while MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds was praising Helton’s barrel control.

“I can’t watch this,” Helton said as he went to the front door.

At this point, Helton's mother showed up. It was mindful of scenes during his career, when she would appear at road games -- usually in San Diego. At game’s end, Helton would remove his game jersey, replace his spikes with slippers, go beneath the stands, take his mother’s arm and walk her through the parking lot.

The day brought memories for Christy Helton. Even when her husband was at his best, she would greet him at home and feel the fresh calluses on his hand after postgame hitting sessions to correct the slightest flaw. It was more to help the Rockies win than for honors such as the Hall.

“He put everything that he had into it,” Christy Helton said. “I don’t ever think he played for himself, but I know this matters to him.”

The jubilation also brought memories of Helton’s late father, Jerry, who caught for two seasons in the Twins' organization. Jerry's words, exacting and comforting, resurfaced through his son shortly after the Hall call.

“I tell people he was hard on me, which he was,” Helton said. “But when I would do bad, which was 1-for-3 when I was little, he’d say, ‘One-for-three will get you into the Hall of Fame.’

“He was hard on me, but he picked me up when I was down, too. And he also told me he prayed that when I was in high school, that I'd be a baseball player. And he was like, 'If you're going to dream, dream to be a big leaguer, not just a baseball player. Dream to be a Hall of Famer.’

“Nobody plays to be a Hall of Famer. You go out there, play as hard as you can and don’t give away at-bats.”

Helton followed that path -- all the way to Cooperstown.