Todd Helton's season has come to an end. His career, however, hasn't.
The face of the Colorado Rockies won't let his 16 years of excellence end like this.
That's why he went on the disabled list on Monday, and why on Friday he will undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right hip. He says doctors tell him it will take six months for him to recover from the surgery, and Helton wants to be ready to go in slightly more than six months, when the Rockies will open Spring Training for the 2013 season. Two weeks shy of his 39th birthday, and with a career that will make him the first test case for the Coors Field Effect on a player's Hall of Fame candidacy, Helton wants to go out on a high note. He's not Chipper Jones, who has turned this season into his farewell tour, enjoying moments of appreciation in each visiting park. Helton has always maintained his privacy despite his public persona. He is planning to play again next year, but he's not saying it will be his farewell. There will be no advanced retirement announcement from Helton. "That's not the way I do things," said Helton. "Nothing against Chipper. I respect him. But we are different personalities. I don't want the attention Chipper is getting. That's just not me." Helton is blue collar with a royal pedigree. He was the quarterback who filled the gap between Heath Shuler and Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee. Helton gave up the gridiron to focus on the diamond, and in 1995 became the first-round Draft choice of the Colorado Rockies. By August 1997 he was in the big leagues, and he has never looked back. He's not ready to glance over his shoulder now. "The season the team has had and I have had ..." he said. "I'm going to have the hip surgery and see how it feels." Right now, the view is muddled. Helton is a career .320 hitter. In what was his final game of the season on Sunday afternoon, his first-inning double gave him 960 extra-base hits in his career, tying Hall of Famer Robin Yount for 44th on the all-time list. Helton's season, however, ended with a .238 average and only seven home runs and 37 RBIs, both at the bottom of his career charts. And the man who played at least 144 games in each of his first 10 big league seasons finds himself on the disabled list for the fourth time in five years. The game that was such a joy has become a challenge. Helton won't cry uncle. "I used to enjoy the process of playing with an injury and finding a way to make adjustments to succeed despite [the injury]," he said. Times, however, change. What doesn't change is Helton's desire to go out in style. He could easily walk away from the game. This isn't financial. Two years ago, to help the Rockies free room in the budget to sign long-term deals with Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki, Helton reworked his contract to defer a chunk of money and limit his guarantees in 2012 and 2013 to $4.9 million and $5 million, respectively. This is about going out in a fashion that befits his career, not limping away from the game in which he earned a reputation as one of the premier clutch performers. "It's about confidence," said Helton teammate Jason Giambi, an elite clutch hitter himself. "He has confidence in every at-bat, and he wants to be up in those situations. A lot of guys say they want to be put there, but most guys are kidding themselves. Todd? He loves it." Assorted stats underscore Helton's success. He has hit .329 against right-handed pitchers in his career, .298 against left-handed pitchers. His .299 average for the month of April is the only sub-.300 monthly average of his career. He has hit .328 in his career with runners in scoring position, .298 with two outs. And two strikes? Most hitters struggle to hit .200 with a two-strike count. Helton has hit .263. "Most of the time, I am confident I can put the ball in play and can foul a pitch off," Helton said. "That's one of my biggest assets. Ninety percent of the time, if you make a pitcher throw a number of pitches, he is going to give you one to hit." The challenge facing Helton is how many more times he will get that chance to face that late-inning situation.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.