Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Not everyone can go out on top.
Don't tell that to Todd Helton, though.
Forget the final score for a minute (the Red Sox beat up on Helton's Rockies 15-5 on Wednesday). Could Helton's career at Coors Field have ended any more perfectly?
All he did in his final home game as a professional baseball player was go 2- for-3 with a homer and three ribbies. The home run, a 388-foot missile to right off Jake Peavy, brought all 48,755 fans in attendance to their feet.
Helton even got his Cal Ripken moment, high-fiving every Rockies fan he could find as he made his way around the diamond one last time.
I half-expected Helton to pull a Wade Boggs and ride off into the sunset on the back of a majestic steed. Especially after the Rockies brought a live horse onto the field to thank him for his 17 years of service.
A horse is nice, but wouldn't a plaque in Cooperstown be the ultimate going- away gift for Helton?
Who knows what the baseball writers will decide in five years but if it were up to me, Helton would get my vote. Though most of his best seasons were overshadowed by better ones from alleged steroid users Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, Helton's body of work speaks for itself.
The accolades are practically endless. Five All-Star appearances, four Silver Sluggers, three Gold Glove awards, a batting title in 2000. Helton truly was one of the most talented players of his generation.
It all starts with his bat. As of Thursday, Helton's .317 lifetime average is the fifth-highest among active players. If he gets two more extra base hits over the weekend, Helton will have 1,000 for his career, a feat accomplished by just 35 major leaguers before him.
In his second at bat Wednesday against Peavy, Helton plastered a double to left field, the 592nd of his MLB career. That puts Helton just four behind Luis Gonzalez for 15th on the all-time doubles list.
Though he only has 22 doubles in 2013, Helton had a stretch between 1998 and 2007 when he had at least 35 doubles in ten consecutive seasons. No player in history, not even Babe Ruth, had ever done that before. To nobody's surprise, Helton is the Rockies' all-time leader when it comes to two-baggers.
Helton is rarely regarded as a power-hitter, yet he still managed to sneak in eight seasons of 20 homers or more including six straight 30-homer campaigns between 1999 and 2005. He averaged 36.8 HR per season over that span.
Even more impressive might be the incredible degree of consistency Helton displayed throughout his career. From 1998 to 2007, he never recorded a batting average lower than .300. His high-water mark during that period came in 2000 when he won his only National League batting title (.372). Helton just missed out on a second batting crown in 2003 when he batted .35849 to Albert Pujols' .35871.
As his 1,334 career walks would attest to, plate discipline has always been a staple of Helton's game. He struck out fewer than 100 times in 16 of his 17 major league seasons. Helton's patient approach is a big reason why he's 20th on the all-time on base percentage list (.414 in 9,441 career plate appearances).
Last night, the public address announcer introduced Helton as "the greatest Rockie in history," a claim I'd have a hard time arguing with. He's the club's career leader in nearly every stat you could think of including home runs, RBI, total bases, games played, doubles, walks and of course, runs scored.
Helton's resume doesn't include a championship but he came close in 2007 when the Rockies rode an 11-game winning streak to the World Series. Colorado would later lose to the same team Helton faced in his last home game, the Boston Red Sox.
Helton, who no doubt will have his No. 17 retired at Coors Field in the coming years, has also demonstrated some fine glove work throughout his career. In fact, even at age 40, he still fields his position remarkably well. Helton's .998 fielding percentage this season leads all MLB first basemen.
This won't show up in the box scores but it's worth mentioning that Helton has spent his entire career with one team. That level of commitment to one franchise is almost unheard of in today's MLB. Among active players, only Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, who will also be hanging up his cleats at the end of the season, have been with the same organization longer than Helton has.
It may be a bit of a reach but Helton's greatest contribution to American sports may have actually come on the gridiron. During his college years at the University of Tennessee, Helton was actually a star quarterback for the Volunteers. A knee injury ended Helton's football career prematurely but it also opened the door for his backup, Peyton Manning, to become one of the greatest players in both college and NFL history. Manning, who was at the game on Wednesday night, continues to be one of Helton's biggest supporters.
I gotta ask ... are you sure about this, Todd? Clearly you can still play at a high level.
"If I could play 81 games at home next year, I could do it," Helton told the Denver Post a few weeks ago. "And if they had the games scheduled for the same time so I could get a sleeping patten, I would have a chance."
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