If you judge a man by the company he keeps …
The link between Todd Helton and Peyton Manning is obvious. One followed the other as Tennessee quarterback. Both were professional stars in Denver.
Not so easy is the baseball connection between Helton, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg.
Twenty years ago, Todd joined those all-time greats with one of the five best seasons in baseball history. He had stunning numbers in 2000. He led the major leagues in batting average (.372), runs batted in (147), doubles (59), extra base hits (103) and slugging percentage (.698). He hit 42 home runs.
Helton was also a superb first baseman, Gold Glove variety.
The Colorado Rockies thought he was pretty good. They extended his contract by nine years with a net value of $141.5 million – back when that was a lot of money.
Todd had a pretty good career. He played all 17 seasons with the Rockies. He hit at least .315 for eight consecutive years (1998–2005). Injuries got to him later.
He was a five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger and three-time Gold Glove Award winner. Helton’s 1,726 career assists are the second most in baseball history for a first baseman, He was involved in 2,038 double plays, third most. He holds team records in most everything related to hitting.
Baseball guru Bill James says “Helton’s numbers are SO good that nobody knows what to do with them.”
If Todd had hit the ball for the Yankees or Red Sox, he’d be a shoo-in for the hall of fame. Because he played home games at Coors Field, too late for ESPN highlights, and because Denver’s thin air added a foot or six in hit distance, his accomplishments are discounted.
Todd got 116 of 397 hall of fame votes (29.2 per cent) this year. To get in the gate, a player must receive at least 75 per cent. Maybe next year or sometime later.
“Hall of Fame” in the headline up above has to do with the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame. Todd will be inducted next week in a virtual ceremony, no great room full of fans, no expensive dinners benefitting Boys and Girls Clubs.
The show will go to WBXX television, 7 p.m., July 21. Former Vol Charles Davis, now a football analyst for CBS, will be the speaker.
- Fulton High’s Rob Black is the Falcons’ three-time state champion football coach. His dad, Bob, is in the hall.
- Randy Lambert served 39 years as basketball coach at Maryville College.
- Maryville native Andy Landers won 866 games and seven SEC championships as coach of women’s basketball at Georgia.
- Gloria Scott Deathridge played basketball at Tennessee before Pat Summitt, had an interesting career with TVA and served eight years on Knox County Board of Education.
- Stan Cotten, Farragut High and UT grad, has been play-by-play voice of Wake Forest athletics for 24 years.
- Mike Murray, president and general manager of the Knoxville Ice Bears, has been an active member of the hockey community for 30 years.
- Steve Hamer was a four-year starter for Tennessee basketball. In 1994-96, he led the Vols in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.
- Mark Connor, former Tennessee baseball coach, is better known as pitching coach for five major league teams.
- Clark Duncan, a four-year starter as a football Volunteer, has been a long-time coach and administrator at Powell and South-Doyle.
Helton has Fountain City connections. He threw 55 touchdown passes for Central High and was a prep All-American. As a sophomore, he led the baseball Bobcats to a state championship. He hit .655 as a senior.
Helton went to UT to play both sports. He appeared in 12 football games, threw four TD passes, but didn’t make a memorable impact. He was one of Tennessee’s best-ever baseball players.
In 1995, he hit .407 with 20 home runs and 92 runs batted in. None were aided by altitude. He was 8-2 as a pitcher with an ERA of 1.66. He led the Vols to the College World Series and was National Player of the Year. He was three times an All-American. That, alone, puts him in elite company.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org