February 25, 2010
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It seems strange to think that the Rockies are entering their 18th season in the big leagues and their 16th season playing at Coors Field.
The Rockies are old enough to have fans that have filled out their draft registration at the local post office and have never seen a summer in which the Rockies were not in existence. In a game with as rich of a history as baseball, the Rockies are still very much a young team.
While the history of the club is forming and perhaps entering its first great chapter, there are still several memories in the past that should not be forgotten.
Thomas Harding, the Rockies beat writer for MLB.com, wrote a very thought provoking article about how the Rockies have only retired the number of Jackie Robinson, a number retired by every team in the league. However, there are two numbers that the Rockies do not issue, even though they have not been retired.
Larry Walker's No. 33 has never been worn since the Canadian right fielder left Colorado. In addition to Walker's number is the late Darryl Kile's No. 57. Kile died in a Chicago hotel room three seasons after being dealt by the Rockies to the Cardinals.
Suddenly, the Rockies are an established team. Eighteen years is a long time to be in the league. Is it time for the Rockies to officially honor some of their early great players? The Blake Street Bombers were not a flash in the pan. Stories of 15-14 games at Coors Field will live on for years. By all accounts, those players set the tone for the early part of Colorado Rockies history. Should members of those Rockies clubs see their numbers retired?
The obvious choice would be to find room on the outfield wall for Walker's No. 33 jersey. After all, he is the club's first and only MVP. In 10 seasons with the Rockies, Walker was the National League batting champion three times. His on base plus slugging percentage never dropped below .898 and was frequently above 1.000, an incredible stat. On four different occasions Walker represented the Rockies in the All-Star game. The choice seems simple.
However, the answer is not that easy.
After Walker was done playing for the Rockies, the club continued to rebuild. The club's newfound philosophy of building from within was in its infancy, which meant that the team was signing re-treads and has beens as stop gaps at nearly every position. The Rockies were consistently losing more than 70 games per season.
If there were no bright spots during those long rebuilding days, there would be no doubt that the Rockies should honor Walker by retiring his jersey.
The problem is, there was a bright spot.
While the Rockies were busy losing games, Todd Helton was busy making the team at least respectable. He was putting up numbers that could not be written off simply because he played at Coors Field. After hitting 25 home runs and driving in 97 runs in his rookie season, Helton was denied the Rookie of the Year honors, finishing second to Kerry Wood.
In 2000, Helton won the batting title and drove in an incredible 147 runs while hitting 42 home runs and smacking 59 doubles. Helton was an All-Star in five straight seasons.
His numbers go on and on, and by no means was Helton simply an offensive player. Helton is a three-time Gold Glove winner and even in his older age still shows up on the highlight shows at least once a week with an incredible play at first base.
Because Helton has been so good, because he is the club leader in nearly every offensive category, because he was part of the first Rockies team to win a pennant, because he was patient when he could have asked to be traded to another team, and because of so many more reasons, no one should ever wear No. 17 in purple pinstripes again.
Something would not be right if Todd Helton does not receive the honor of being the first Rocky to have his number retired.
Until that happens, Larry Walker will have to wait. It does not mean that Walker shouldn't be honored, but his honor should come only after the first truly great Rockie is honored first.
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