DENVER — Todd Helton defined himself by his batting average.
It was typical to find him at his locker, sweat dripping from his brow, hands calloused after a long tinkering session in the cage. In the moments leading up to his strides to the plate, it was impossible to predict whether he would get a hit, but one thing was certain: win or lose, he would never concede an at-bat.
Not under any circumstance.
It was that almost unhealthy competitive desire that fueled his 17-year career with the Rockies that finished just shy of Cooperstown Tuesday. Wait ‘Til Next Year is a familiar baseball refrain and should serve as a rallying cry to make it in 2024 after Helton came up 11 votes short.
"It's disappointing. But it's out of my control. I'm just thankful for the people who voted for me," Helton told Denver7.
There’s no denying this stings. Helton was “nervous” about the results, knowing it would be a close call, and he was right. Only former Cardinals and Phillies star Scott Rolen made it, receiving 76.3 percent of the vote.
Helton was vying to become the Rockies’ second player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, joining Larry Walker in 2020.
The good news is that Helton is trending in the right direction. Players who reach his percentage typically get elected. It marked Helton’s fifth time on the ballot, leaving him five more years to reach the required vote. Walker eclipsed the threshold in his 10th year. The ballot will remain uncrowded, with few sure things on the next few ballots, beyond Ichiro Suzuki.
Like with Walker, voters have warmed to Helton. He received 16.5% in 2018, his first year, and has steadily climbed from 29.2% to 44.9 and 52.0 last January. Full disclosure, I am Hall of Fame voter and have voted for Helton each year he has appeared on the ballot.
Helton played his entire 17-year career with the Rockies, finally retiring after years of dealing with back, hip and knee surgeries. Helton reached the playoffs twice in his career, serving as the catalyst to the 2007 magical run to the World Series with a walk-off home run against the Dodgers as part of Colorado's 21-1 sprint to the Fall Classic.
"Love him. I just love who he is and the personality that made him great as a player," former Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs told Denver7. "The Saito walk-off homer is my favorite baseball memory in my career. I’ve done some cool things personally, but him hitting the homer, after watching him and getting to know Todd, that is my favorite memory by far."
Helton is forever captured in the photo when he caught the final out in the Rockies' National League Championship Series sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"That is the obvious one I remember. Us going to the World Series and him putting his hands in the air and jumping up and down like a little kid," former Rockies all-star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki told Denver7.
The Rockies selected Helton out of Tennessee with the eighth overall pick in the 1995 draft, and he made his major-league debut on Aug. 2. 1997. Over the next 17 seasons, he grew up before our eyes. He morphed from a player with questions about his power and defense into a five-time all-star and three-time Gold Glove winner.
For many fans and teammates, when they think of the Rockies, they think of Helton.
Helton was happy when he was comfortably miserable. It is ironic given his statistics. He finished with a lifetime .316 average, .414 on-base percentage, 369 home runs, 592 doubles and scored 1,401 runs. Taking over for the popular Andres Galarraga, Helton burst onto the scene in 1998, batting .315 with 25 home runs and 97 RBIs, finishing second to Chicago Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood for National League rookie of the year honors.
During his prime, from 1998 to 2005, he averaged 33 home runs and 114 RBIs. His best season came in 2000, when he won a batting title, hit 42 home runs and flirted with becoming the first player to hit .400 since Ted Williams in 1941.
Helton also hit .287 on the road with 142 home runs, respectable numbers that demanded his candidacy not be dismissed.
Helton owns almost every meaningful Rockies' offensive statistic, was the master of the scoop and bunt defense, and for more than a decade ranked as one of the toughest outs in baseball.
For nearly two decades, Helton was known as the greatest Rockies player ever. Soon, perhaps this time next year, he will be known as one of the greatest players ever.