For 5-time All-Star Tulo, Helton has all the hallmarks of HOFer

January 22nd, 2024

Over 17 seasons in the Major Leagues, played 2,247 games for the Rockies — and zero for all of the other 29 franchises. He is the franchise leader in games, hits, runs, home runs and RBIs.

Helton also established standards in more subjective ways. That is part of the reason his candidacy has gained momentum ahead of Tuesday’s unveiling of the 2024 Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame election results, live on MLB Network at 6 p.m. ET.

Helton was a five-time All-Star by the time made his MLB debut in August 2006. One year later, Tulowitzki helped ensure that the Rockies reached the World Series for the first — and still only — time in their history.

“That season for me — as a young player — I was literally playing for Todd and thinking about how badly I wanted him to experience a World Series,” Tulowitzki said in a recent telephone interview. “At that point, he’d already been playing for so long. I wanted him to be rewarded for everything he’d done for the organization. I respected him so much for what he did on a daily basis.”

Helton’s signature moment of the storybook 2007 season arrived on Sept. 18. The Rockies woke up that morning facing a five-game deficit for the National League Wild Card, with only two weeks left in the regular season.

But a doubleheader sweep of the Dodgers transformed the team’s momentum, punctuated by Helton’s walk-off home run against Takashi Saito. The Rockies won 14 of their final 15 games, including a thrilling victory over the San Diego Padres in the Wild Card tiebreaker. Helton posted a 1.098 OPS with four home runs over that span.

“We knew how important a game that was, and he gets the big hit,” Tulowitzki recalled. “All of a sudden, we’re on a roll, and he’s leading us, on and off the field. I remember thinking, ‘This is going to be special.’ Boston was a little deeper and more experienced [in the World Series], but that entire run wouldn’t have been possible without Todd.”

Tulowitzki, who turns 40 this year, retired after appearing in five games with the Yankees in 2019. He’s now the director of player development for the University of Texas baseball program — a role that gives him new appreciation for Helton’s influence.

“As a young player, I told myself that if I was ever in the same spot as Todd, I would treat the younger guys the way he treated me,” said Tulowitzki, a five-time All-Star. “I worked hard to earn his approval. That’s the stuff he wouldn’t know — how much he meant to our team, how important his energy was.”

Tulowitzki said he learned different aspects of the game from Helton and Matt Holliday, who also appears on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot. Holliday would have in-depth conversations with Tulowitzki about hitting or baseball in general. Helton often led by example, especially as he neared his retirement after the 2013 season.

Helton was limited to 69 games in 2012 due to a right hip labrum tear that required season-ending surgery.

“Toward the back end of his career, I could tell there was a lot of stuff hurting him, but if he was good enough to play, he was going to be in the lineup,” Tulowitzki said. “I just watched him and said, ‘This guy absolutely does not give in to the fact that his back is hurting him.’ He could look bad in the cage that day, then go out and throw two or three hits out there. He could put together a 10-pitch at-bat. It’s his mentality that always stood out to me.”

To answer the perpetual question: Yes, Tulowitzki sees Helton as a deserving Hall of Famer despite the benefits of hitting at Coors Field.

Todd Helton (left) with Troy Tulowitzki in 2013. (Getty)

After all, as MLB Network researcher Craig Nordquist has observed, Helton’s .855 OPS on the road is better than Carl Yastrzemski’s overall career OPS.

“If we went on the road to San Francisco after 10 days at home, you’d say, ‘Wow, I haven’t seen a slider bite like this in a long time,’” Tulowitzki said. “You had to adjust. There was definitely an art to it. The longer you played there, the better you’d get on the road.

“For me, being a player, I look at [a Hall of Famer] as, ‘Was he a completely different player?’ And [Todd] was different. He was the best hitter on the team. He could work an at-bat like I’d never seen. And he was a Gold Glover at first base.”