Vol Todd Helton overlooked? Just barely!

Spencer S. HarrisOpinion

Most of the BBWAA voters only know of Knoxville native Todd Helton as the first baseman for the Colorado Rockies.

Helton was a five-time All-Star with a .316 batting average, 369 homers and 2,519 hits from 1997-2013. Only six other hitters reached those three thresholds: Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial and Vladimir Guerrero, all first-ballot Hall of Famers. (Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated).

Helton also recorded 1,406 RBIs, won the 2000 NL batting title, made highlight-reel catches (three Gold Gloves), executed game saving stretches on 1B and won a Silver Slugger Award four times.

OK, I get it. Only MLB stats are considered for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY; college stats don’t count, but what a thrill it was to see Helton in orange and white!

A high-school All American from Central High, Helton was drafted in 1992 by San Diego, but chose to come to UT on football and baseball scholarships. Helton appeared in 12 games during his career with the Vols football team, completing 41 of 75 passes for 484 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

On the baseball diamond (1993-1995) he recorded a .370 batting average, with 38 home runs and 238 RBI (both school records), while also pitching 193 innings, registering an ERA of 2.24, with 172 strikeouts and 23 saves (UTSports.com). In 1995, he set the Tennessee saves record with 11, while posting a 0.89 ERA. Helton also has the NCAA Division I record for most consecutive scoreless innings at 47.

I was fortunate to see Helton play several times in Denver and once in Los Angeles against the Dodgers, but my favorite memories are seeing him at Lindsey Nelson Stadium with the big orange UT on his cap. How extraordinary it was to see coach Rod Delmonico call Helton from first base to the pitcher’s mound. Todd would swap his first baseman’s mitt for his fielder’s glove; close out the opposition, and more often than not add a hit or a homer to his stat sheet.

In his fifth year of eligibility, Helton was on 72.2% of the Hall of Fame ballots this year – just 11 votes shy of the 75% needed for election and enshrinement in Cooperstown. Helton’s vote count is up from 52% in 2022; closing in, but no cigar.

Verducci switched his vote from No to Yes this year explaining: Helton hit really well for a very long time. He is the only player with an OPS+ of 133 (sum of on-base % and slugging % – ballpark and league adjusted) not tied to PEDs who is not in the Hall of Fame (min. 9,000 plate appearances). That measurement alone convinced me. (Sports Illustrated).

Maybe Verducci’s very public change of heart will influence some other writers, but if you know any members of the BBWAA, please write a letter or make a phone call.

Spencer S. Harris lives on an almond ranch in the Central Valley of California. He is a native of Chattanooga, a graduate of the University of Tennessee and a lifelong Volunteer. He is related to the Smith and Boring families of early Concord and has written two previous articles for Knox TN Today. Harris can be reached at spencer_harris@hughes.net

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *