DENVER -- The forever face of the Rockies’ franchise has a rugged goatee and intense eyes. Beneath the cap and behind the eye black, it's a face hardened by altitude and weather. As always, the look is determined.
How would it look on Hall of Fame plaque?
Todd Helton, who played all 17 of his seasons in Purple Pinstripes, is on the Hall of Fame ballot for a third time. He earned 29.2 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers' Association of America in 2020, up from 16.5 in '19, his first year of eligibility. A player must receive 75 percent to earn a place in Cooperstown. Even if not elected this year, it’s possible Helton can earn a high enough percentage to make him a stronger candidate in future years.
The 2021 ballot was delivered to eligible BBWAA voters this week.
Three factors help Helton’s candidacy:
• Outfielder Larry Walker, who spent the bulk of his career with Colorado (but starred for Montreal before and finished with high-profile St. Louis teams), became the first player who had worn the Rockies’ uniform for as much as one game to be voted into the Hall of Fame. He didn't make it until his 10th and final year on the ballot. Walker saw his vote rate drop as low as 10.2 percent in 2014 and not bounce back above 20 percent until '17.
• While a palpable mistrust of stats generated by Rockies players has hurt Walker and Helton with voters, one problem has been a glut of qualified players. In the seven years since the BBWAA didn’t elect a player in 2013, 20 players have been elected. This time, there is no first-year player who is an obvious candidate for enshrinement -- like Derek Jeter last year -- and no player with Hall of Fame credentials in his final year.
• Helton was able to avoid the unfortunate specter of performance-enhancing drugs, which haunts several candidates that otherwise would be surefire Hall of Famers, or close to it.
Helton is bidding to become the 55th Hall of Famer to have spent his entire career with one team. While many -- like Jeter, the Yankees' shortstop and captain -- played for older, higher-profile franchises that, in many cases, won World Series during that player’s career, Helton falls into an unusual category. In the expansion era (since 1961), just five players spent their careers with younger franchises that never won it all while they were involved -- Tony Gwynn (Padres), Edgar Martinez (Mariners), Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio (Astros), and Robin Yount (Brewers).
Making it tougher is the voting prejudice against Coors Field, although Helton’s career numbers are in line with those of many Hall of Famers -- as is the difference between his home and road numbers. But Walker, whose election followed a push by some voters and the club, may make that barrier easier to clear.
Working in his favor is the fact Helton has eight more shots for his face to grace Cooperstown, even if 2021 isn't his year.