Tennessee football was just plain bad. Basketball is suddenly stuck in reverse. Let’s talk baseball.
Sometime after 6 tomorrow evening we will again be told that Todd Helton did not get elected to the Hall of Fame. He was a 20-to-1 longshot.
Keep the faith. His time will come. He has seven more years on the ballot if he needs that long.
Todd is Knoxville’s most famous baseball player – all-American as a senior at Central High School, national collegiate player of the year at the University of Tennessee in 1995.
I have the numbers.
He hit .655 as a Bobcat and turned down $450,000 from the San Diego Padres to be a Volunteer quarterback, first baseman and pitcher.
He brought impressive football credentials. He threw 55 touchdown passes for Central High.
Helton spent a couple of seasons behind Heath Shuler, eventually appeared in 12 games, completed 41 of 75 passes for 484 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. He ran for a few yards – when necessary.
He is the answer to a trivia question. He was, for a short time, the guy who kept Peyton Manning on the bench.
Todd was terrific in UT baseball – .370, school records in home runs and RBIs, 0.89 ERA as a relief pitcher. He led the Vols to the College World Series in 1995. That was the season when he hit .407 with 20 home runs and 92 runs batted in.
Todd wore number 17 for his 17-year career with the Colorado Rockies. It wasn’t too bad. He earned something over $160 million. Fans called him The Toddfather. He was the face of the franchise. He batted .316. He had 2,519 hits and more walks, 1,335, than strikeouts. He ended up on base 41.4 percent of his at-bats. Mickey Mantle was 42.0. He could run faster.
Todd’s 592 doubles rank 19th in MLB history. He hit 369 home runs.
He had great hand-eye coordination but it has been said that Todd was as much a scientist as a natural hitter. He studied different techniques. He constantly experimented with different approaches.
Helton’s peak period was 1999-2003. He was a fearsome hitter who compared favorably with some of the best in history. In each of those five seasons, he hit above .300, had at least 30 home runs, drove in over 100 runs and scored more than 100. Only three players put up such numbers in five consecutive seasons – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx.
Todd was very good on defense. He led the National League in fielding percentage six times. His 1,726 career assists are the second-most in major league history.
He was five times an all-star. He won four Silver Slugger awards and three Gold Gloves. He was fifth in MVP voting in 2000.
That is a separate story about one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. He created 192 runs. Only eight players have done so much. Nobody cared. He got one first-place vote. You can blame that on the fact that he played half his games at Coors Field.
That is a stigma. The mile-high altitude in Denver allowed the ball to fly faster and farther than it would have in New York or LA. Critics use that to discredit his offensive numbers.
There is some validity. He batted .345 at home and .287 on the road. That is not abnormal. Jim Rice, Roy Campanella, Wade Boggs and Kirby Puckett hit better at home. There are a hundred other examples.
Helton was a more productive road hitter than Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, Tony Gwynn, Al Kaline, George Brett and Andre Dawson.
Todd was well-paid but never achieved the fame I thought he deserved. Too many of his games were played after half of America had gone to bed. ESPN rarely had Rockies’ highlights.
He made it to one World Series. The Rockies lost to the Boston Red Sox in four games.
Helton is climbing toward hall-of-fame honors. He received 16.5 percent of the vote from baseball writers in 2019 and 29.2 percent last year. He might reach 45 or 50 this time. It takes 75 percent to open the door.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org