Rockies first baseman Todd Helton announced early last week he would retire at age 40 after a 17-year big-league career. For about a decade, he was a pillar of consistency for the Rockies, before his age caught up with him over the last few seasons, like it does to all ballplayers.
While his career has been great, I’m expecting Helton will come up short five years from now in Hall of Fame voting. He could potentially get elected to Cooperstown someday but certainly not on the first few tries.
Helton will certainly go down as an above-average Major League player. But Hall of Fame? That just seems like a bit of a stretch.
Of course, the argument that he played his entire career with the Rockies won’t exactly help his cause. While his career road numbers (.287 batting average, 142 home runs and 547 RBIs) are still quite good, his home numbers have been inflated by the thin Coors Field air: .345 average, 225 home runs and 850 RBIs.
But also when looking at Helton’s body of work, the cause against his Hall of Fame candidacy may include the fact that he was never the dominant player in the league at his position.
When he was first coming up, Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell were the superstar NL first basemen, and as his career progressed, he was always second fiddle to Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez.
It’s necessary to compare a player to the other top players of his era when discussing the Hall of Fame. McGwire of course won’t get in based on steroid usage, but if Bagwell is having a tough time being elected, that should be a preview of what Helton should expect.
Pujols will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the book remains open on Votto and Gonzalez, but for Helton, the back end of his career may hurt his chances.
Again, he was a dominant offensive force for about a decade, but that likely won’t be enough for a Cooperstown plaque.
As a consolation though, Helton could be a candidate to have a statue outside Coors Field. He embodied Rockies baseball for the last 17 years, and for that he deserves at least some recognition. He’ll certainly have his number retired at some point too.
The “Toddfather” was a very good Major League player, but unfortunately for him, the Hall of Fame is reserved for the best of the best.
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