“Back then it was a different culture.” Four days after his interview with Peter Gammons, the words of Alex Rodriguez still ring true.
With another superstar humbled by a positive test, we have little to do but wait for the next player to fall, the next group of fans to come down devastated. Rockies fans have been lucky so far.
But realistically, there is only one player whose positive test could put a dagger through his fan base: Todd Helton. There have been whispers before, but they’ve been quickly quashed, brushed under the rug with adamant and aggressive strokes from both team management and Helton himself.
In March 2005, former Rockies broadcaster Wayne Hagin suggested that Helton had used some kind of banned substance. “I'm going to say something that is the absolute truth, and he will be mad at me for saying it if it gets out, but Todd Helton, a tremendously gifted baseball player, he tried it. I know he tried it because Don Baylor told me.”
Hagin continued, “He said to me, ‘I told him to get off the juice, that he was a player who didn't need that, get off it. It made him into a robot at first base defensively, and may have altered his swing.' He got off it, but he is not unlike so many athletes who have tried it because they wanted to get into that level playing field."
Helton was furious, saying, “I would like to extend a hunting trip to him deep in the woods somewhere.” Hagin backed down quickly, retracted his statement and said he was referring to legal supplements.
Little has been said of the matter since. But with Rodriquez bringing steroids to the forefront of another media blitz, perhaps it’s time to take another look at the case against Helton.
From the moment Helton came up, his talent was apparent. In 1998, Helton played in all but 10 games, hit 25 home runs and held a line of .315/.380/.530. The season after, he hit another 35 homers and saw his numbers rise moderately to .320/.395/.587.
The next season, however, Helton experienced the first of two consecutive monster seasons, hitting 42 home runs, and playing to the tune of .372/.463/.698. In 2001, it was more of the same as fans saw Helton put up 49 home runs and post a line of .336/.432/.685.
It was no question the Rockies had one of the premier talents in the league, perhaps of all time. But in 2002, the team saw its prized first baseman’s power numbers drop dramatically.
His average and OBP stayed almost identical to the season before, but his Slugging percentage dropped over 100 points to .577. Helton has never been the same since.
In one offseason, Helton went from being one of the top five power hitters in the game, to being one of the top ten doubles hitters in the game.
Let’s consider this another way. We’ll use Isolated Power, a Sabermetric statistic that accounts only for a player’s extra base hit potential, without relying too heavily on a player’s ability to hit home runs.
In 1998, Helton’s IsoP was .215, a very respectable number. In 1999, the number increased to .266. However, the next season, Helton’s IsoP rose once more to .326 and improved once again to .349 in 2001. Helton had risen sharply from a promising young player to one of the great all-around talents in the game.
Of course, the Rockies fans were happy to have him and expected more of the same for years to come. It’s really no question at this point why the Rockies signed him to such an enormous deal. He projected to be one of the great players in the league for years to come.
But instead of continuing his dominant power streak, Helton slumped in 2002 to the tune of a .248 IsoP rating and never fully bounced back. The next years, he saw the mark jump to .271 and .272 but has since never been over .214.
So without bringing emotions into the discussion, in front of us is a player who has always been a very talented ball player, and certainly one of the greatest players to dawn a Colorado Rockies uniform.
But he’s also a player who had two seasons that simply don’t fit with the rest. Unfortunately, these seasons fall within a very troubling time for baseball as a whole.
In two seasons, Helton’s IsoP rating jumped 31 percent only to fall another 29 percent a year later. Such seasons are not unheard of, and considering the fact that Helton played his home games at Coors Field, they could be legitimate.
However, circumstantial evidence does build up suggesting that Helton may have been doing something differently in 2000 and 2001 than he’s done over the rest of his career.
I, for one, explicitly trust Todd Helton. As a fan, I feel it’s my duty. If he says he didn’t take steroids (as he has), then I believe him. But, let’s not forget, Alex Rodriguez once adamantly denied it as well. I just don’t want anyone caught off-guard.