With all the hoopla surrounding New York Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera, two retiring baseball greats may have been overlooked as the 2013 season came to a close. Todd Helton, the first baseman for the Colorado Rockies, and Andy Pettitte, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, played their final games in Major League uniforms over the weekend.
Helton’s debut in Colorado was in 1997 and became a full-time starter a season later. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1998, posting a gaudy 25 homeruns and 97 runs batted in while hitting .315. After improving on those numbers in 1999, Helton made five consecutive All Star Game appearances from 2000-2004, winning a batting title in 2000 with an average of .372.
He remained a productive player through the latter parts of his career and was a key contributor on the 2007 Rockies squad that lost in the World Series to the Boston Red Sox. On September 14th, Helton announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season.
Andy Pettitte’s rookie season in New York (1995) coincided with the birth of the Yankees dynasty. After failing to defeat the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series in 1995, the Yankees won four of the next five World Series, with Pettitte playing a huge role in all of them. After the 2003 season, Pettitte signed with the Houston Astros, due to their proximity to his home in Texas.
Pettitte returned to the Yankees in 2007 and won another world championship with the club in 2009. After a brief retirement for the duration of the 2011 season, Pettitte pitched two more seasons in pinstripes before announcing his retirement on September 20th, effective at the end of the season.
The question for both players is: are their careers Hall of Fame worthy? Helton’s career numbers include 2,519 hits, 369 homeruns and a .316 average. He has also garnered five All-Star Game selections, four Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Glove Awards. Some will say that his offensive numbers were inflated since he played 81 games a season in the high Denver altitude. Even so, his numbers are still remarkable. The unpredictable weather in Denver during the early part of the season could just as easily have stunted his statistics.
Pettitte’s career numbers include 256 wins and 2,448 strikeouts (the all-time leader in Yankees history). He earned three All-Star Game selections and never had a losing season in his 18-year career. Additionally, Pettitte excelled in the playoffs. His 19 postseason wins and 276 2/3 innings are the most all-time. He was also the winning pitcher in each of the three clinching games for the Yankees in the 2009 playoffs (Division Series, Championship Series and World Series). Some might look at Pettitte’s numbers (and five championships) and determine that he achieved many of these statistics as the result of being on the Yankees at the height of their success. However, these critics should mention that Pettitte was a significant part of all the playoff teams he was on. Without him, it is possible that the teams he played on would not have gotten to the postseason, or had the same success in the postseason.
Both the Rockies and the Yankees will be hard-pressed to find replacements for these two players. Their dramatic exits (Helton hit a homerun and drove in three runs in his final game at Coors Field and Pettitte threw a complete game against Houston, his former team, in his final start) underscore how important they were to their teams. It might not come in five years, but baseball fans should expect to see both men eventually enshrined in the Hall of Fame.