UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – It’s Helton’s time as ’24 Hall vote begins

Todd Helton has some new competition for a plaque at Cooperstown this year.

The 2024 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has been announced, and among the newly eligible former stars are Adrian Beltre and Joe Mauer. Helton’s former Rockies teammate Matt Holliday is there, too.

Helton almost made it in 2023, finishing less than 3 percent short of the required 75 percent of ballots cast.  So maybe this will be his year. Voting ends on New Year’s Eve.

Beltre and Mauer have compelling credentials, which could dilute Helton’s support.

Beltre played 21 Big League seasons, hit 477 home runs, collected 3,166 hits and was a stellar defender.

Mauer won three American League batting titles in four seasons (2006-09) and was AL Most Valuable Player in 2009—all, remarkably, while Minnesota’s regular catcher.

This is Helton’s sixth year (of 10) on the HOF ballot, and his case for induction is strong when compared with another first baseman who will be a frontrunner when he finally retires.

Released by the Reds at the conclusion of a 10-year contract, Joey Votto—like Helton—spent 17 seasons with the same team.

And when the Rockies were in Cincinnati last June, there was a lot of talk that Votto was a near-certainty for selection to Cooperstown.

That got me to comparing these two great players, and my conclusion is that, if Votto should get in, Helton for sure should go before him.

Consider for yourself:

Helton played in 2,247 games during his 17 seasons; Votto 1,997.

Helton finished with a lifetime batting average of .316; Votto, currently a free agent hoping to play another year, is at .294.

Helton had 2,519 hits, Votto 2,098.

Helton hit 369 home runs and drove in 1,406 runs; Votto: 356 and 1,144.

Helton batted over .300 12 times, with a high of .372 in 2000; Votto eight .300+ seasons with a high of .337 in 2012.

Helton concluded his career with 4,292 total bases and an on-base percentage of .414; Votto stands at 3,630 with a lifetime .412 OBP.

There are more stats, all favorable to Helton, except that Votto was National League MVP in 2010, when the Reds won the National League Central Division with a 91-71 record, and Votto led them in all three Triple Crown categories—batting .324 with 37 homers and 113 RBI.

Most impressive for Helton, he became the first player ever to have at least 100 extra base hits in back-to-back seasons (103 in 2000, 105 in 2001).

Also, he joined Chuck Klein, Lou Gehrig and Jimmy Foxx as the only players in baseball history to reach 400 total bases in consecutive seasons (405 in ’00, 402 in ’01). 

Votto had a club option that would have paid him $20 million to be a part-time player for the Reds in 2024. Cincinnati opted for a $7 million buyout because a) the team has a lot of young talent that needs all the playing time those guys can get, and b) Votto wants to play as regularly as his body will allow.

It remains to be seen if a team will sign him as a free agent and, if one does, how many at-bats he’ll get in ’24.

It’s possible he’ll surpass Helton in at least a few categories, but then the head-to-head comparison is no longer over the same span.

What about the new guys on this year’s ballot?

Beltre and Mauer seem like sure things—if not in their first year of eligibility, soon after.

And what about Matt Holliday?

His career numbers aren’t quite as good as Helton’s, but anyone who remembers that magical 2007 season knows that Holliday should have been the NL MVP that year.

He led the league in four categories: .340 batting average, 216 hits, 50 doubles and 137 runs batted in. 

Yet, in a classic example of the anti-Coors Field bias among voters (many of whom vote players into the Hall of Fame), he finished second to Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who batted only .296 and led the league only in runs (139) and triples (20). Rollins’ on-base percentage was a mere four points ahead of Holliday’s batting average—and 61 points below Holliday’s OBP.

That was reminiscent of another Rockies outfielder losing out to another shortstop with inferior numbers when Dante Bichette finished 30 points behind Cincinnati’s Barry Larkin in the 1995 MVP balloting—despite leading the NL with 197 hits (in a 142-game, strike-shortened season), 40 home runs and 128 RBIs, while hitting .340 and helping the Rockies earn the first National League Wild Card berth in history.

If Holliday makes it into Cooperstown, he may have to wait as long as Larry Walker did (in the most recent example of the Coors Field prejudice). That would mean he’s voted in around 2033.

But first things first. Helton’s resume shows that he should enter next summer—no Coors Field ifs or buts about it.