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Ferguson: Rockies all-time great Helton calling it quits

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Scott Ferguson
9/16/2013 11:21:17 AM
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Two great players have decided to join Mariano Rivera in calling it a career at the end of this season. The first was arguably the last star produced by the Montreal Expos organization, Vladimir Guerrero, and the second is one of the all-time greats with the Colorado Rockies, Todd Helton. Helton is calling it quits at the end of this season and will go down as one of the few players who played with the same franchise his entire career.

The Blake St. Bombers were born in 1995 when Colorado moved from Mile High Stadium, where it played its first two seasons, to Coors Field. The Rockies, at that time, were the most successful franchise ever. Their first year attendance was nearly 4.5 million - a record for all pro sports. They clinched the National League wild card spot on the final day of the 1995 season, coming back from an 8-2 deficit to win 10-9 and becoming the quickest expansion team ever to make the post-season - doing so in just their third year of existence.

The 1995 team featured the likes of Andres Galarraga - who won the National League batting title in 1993 with a .370 batting average - Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Ellis Burks and Larry Walker. This team could flat out hit, aided and abetted by the rarified Denver air that helped balls carry further and flattened out even the best of curve balls.

Helton joined the party in 1997. He had been a two-sport star at the University of Tennessee. He was the starting quarterback with the Volunteers until he was supplanted by some guy named Peyton Manning. They are still good friends to this day and ironically for the past two years have played pro in the same city.

Helton has had a spectacular career. He became the 96th player in Major League history to crack 2,500 hits and he leads in seven all-time Rockies hitting categories. Number 17 has a career average of .317 and has hit 367 homers over 2,235 games.

Helton is a three-time Gold Glover at first base, but these are the numbers that really stick out. He has over 2,500 hits, 550 doubles, over 350 homers and a .310 or higher batting average. The only other match in Major League history to accomplish that was St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan "the Man" Musial.

For the record, Helton's final appearance in Toronto came in a three game series from June 17 through the 19. It was right in the middle of the Blue Jays' record-setting 11 game win streak. The Jays swept the series and outscored the Rockies 15-5. Helton played the first two games at first base for the Rockies and was rested by skipper Walt Weiss in the third. He went a combined 1-for-7 with a walk and two strikeouts. His final hit in Toronto came in the second inning of game one; a line drive single to centre fielder Colby Ramus.

The man who gave up that hit was Josh Johnson. This night was arguably his best game as a Blue Jay. Johnson pitched seven and a third shutout innings, gave up just five hits, walked two and struck out 10 but didn't get the decision. The Jays rallied late and beat the Rockies 2-0.

Not counting this year, in 20 seasons, the Rockies have had only five winning records. Still, they've made it to the post-season three times as a wild card and got all the way to the World Series in 2007 where they were swept by Boston in four straight.

Though attendance has slipped since the early glory years, Colorado still averages over 2 million and has only slipped below that figure once in 20 years. At one point, they had a stretch of 203 straight sell-outs.

Helton wasn't with the Rockies in 1995 and 96 but he can still lay claim to being part of one of the most dominant hitting teams to come down the pike. Colorado lead the National League in hitting every season from 1995 to 2002, led in homeruns from 1995-97 and again in '99. They also led in runs scored in 1995-97 and again from 2000 to 2001. Yes, Helton played his entire home career at  Coors Field but on balance you can't deny the man's Hall of Fame credentials.
 
Former Helton teammate Jason Giambi is in the twilight of his career right now with Cleveland. With two weeks to go in the season, the Indians are just a half game back of  Texas and Tampa Bay for a wild card spot. If Cleveland gets in, Giambi will be going to the playoffs for the ninth time with his fourth different team.
 
The Baltimore Orioles went into Sunday's play leading the American League in walks. The next five behind them in order were Boston, Rays, A's, Cleveland and the Tigers. The common factor - four of the six are holding playoff positions at the moment. Cleveland is just a half game out and Baltimore is still alive at three and a half out. The Blue Jays should take note of this if they already haven't.

Todd Helton (Photo: Canadian Press)

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(Photo: Canadian Press)
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