John Smoltz believes that Rockies icon Todd Helton belongs in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Trevor Hoffman thinks so, too.
You’ll get no hemming or hawing from the two Hall of Fame hurlers. No Coors Field qualifiers, either. Just their simple belief that Helton was an extraordinary player who should be enshrined in Cooperstown, sooner rather than later.
Eligible voting members from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America now have their ballots and must cast their votes by the end of December. The class of 2023 will be announced Jan. 24.
“Todd belongs because he was an elite hitter, like a Tony Gwynn or a Larry Walker,” said Smoltz, who was inducted into the Hall in 2015 after a 21-year career that included 213 victories, 154 saves and 3,084 strikeouts.
“When I think of the era that Todd Helton played in and the class and character that he displayed, and the numbers he put up, it speaks volumes to me. And we know that some numbers can be tainted.”
Smoltz, who pitched the bulk of his career with Atlanta, was eluding to Major League Baseball’s steroid era in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Hoffman, the Padres’ star who was enshrined in Cooperstown in 2018 after an 18-year career that included 601 saves, called Helton a “special player.”
“I honestly have no hesitation putting Todd in the Hall of Fame,” Hoffman said. “He was a nemesis for me, personally. And I saw him take it to a lot of pitchers in the game and certainly in the (National League) West.
“I loved the way he went about his business. There wasn’t a lot of fanfare and he didn’t bring attention to himself. He just went out there and did his job and he did it for a long period of time. And getting to do it for one team is pretty special.”
Helton, who played his entire 17 years with the Rockies, garnered 52% of the vote last year in his fourth appearance on the ballot. He’s made steady progress, but he remains well short of the 75% needed to be elected. Though Helton gained only 7.1% during the 2022 election cycle, crossing the 50% threshold was important, because every player who’s done so — besides Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling — has eventually been elected.
Plus, Walker opened the door for Helton in 2020 when Walker became the first Rockies player inducted. Walker made it on his 10th and final year on the ballot.
Helton finished his career with a .316 average, 2,519 hits and 369 home runs. Almost every eligible candidate who had a career .300 batting average, 2,500 hits and 300 home runs has been enshrined. Helton is one of only two players in baseball history to have at least 2,500 hits, 550 doubles, 350 home runs and a career batting average of .315 or higher. Cardinals legend Stan Musial is the only other player to meet those criteria.
Helton, a left-handed hitter, mashed against Smoltz and Hoffman, both right-handers.
In 28 career plate appearances vs. Smoltz, Helton hit .417 (10-for-24) with four doubles, four strikeouts and four walks.
“He was one of those elite hitters and his style gave me a lot of problems,” Smoltz said. “The only time I started having success is when I started throwing a splitter later in my career. I always felt that he was an athletic hitter who seemed like he had total control over the strike zone. I didn’t like guys like that, to be honest.”
Hoffman and Helton squared off 27 times, with Helton hitting .520 (13-for-25) with three doubles, one home run, four strikeouts and two walks.
“He did a really good job of wasting some of your better pitches,” Hoffman said. “He would waste your best two-strike pitch and then have the advantage. He would make these adjustments during an at-bat that most players just couldn’t do.
“He had a knack for barreling the ball up, making hard contact and hitting the ball where we didn’t have players positioned. I certainly had a hard time getting him out.”
Those who think Helton was a good, solid player but not a Hall of Famer, often bring up the Coors Field factor. There’s no question that Helton’s career splits were dramatic. He posted a .345/.441/.607 slash line and hit 227 of his 369 career homers in the mile-high air.
Still, Helton’s road numbers were solid: .287/.386/.469. And consider this: Helton’s career .855 OPS away from Coors Field is better than the road numbers of several Hall of Famers, including Dave Winfield (.841), Eddie Murray (.838), Rickey Henderson (.836), Tony Gwynn (.835), Al Kaline (.827) and George Brett (.825).
“It wouldn’t be fun to pitch against Todd Helton, at no matter what altitude, so I don’t use that as a barometer for him,” said Smoltz, who works as the top baseball analyst for Fox Sports. “To me, Todd Helton could have played anywhere and hit just as well as anywhere.”
Road to Cooperstown
In 2020, right fielder Larry Walker became the first Rockies player to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Walker was voted in on his 10th and final time on the ballot, finally clearing the 75% threshold needed for election. Todd Helton is trending toward his eventual induction in Cooperstown and is ahead of Walker’s pace. A comparison:
2011 … 20.3%
2012 … 22.9%
2013 … 21.6%
2014 … 10.2%
2015 … 11.8%
2016 … 15.5%
2017 … 21.9%
2018 … 34.1%
2019 … 54.6%
2020 … 76.6%
2019 … 16.5%
2020 … 29.2%
2021 … 44.9%
2022 … 52.0%