Helton thankful for career, 'excited' for next chapter
Seventeen-year big leaguer, face of Rockies, explains retirement decision
PHOENIX -- Time stops for no man, and Todd Helton knows that better than anyone.
Helton reiterated on Sunday that when his 17th Major League Baseball season comes to an end on Sept. 29, he will retire. He's a career member of the Rockies, and that's the only organization he's ever known.
"I've known for awhile that I was going to shut it down," Helton said while seated in the visitors' dugout at Chase Field prior to Sunday's closer of a three-game series against the D-backs. "This is probably the part of it I've been dreading the most. To me, it's an exciting part of my life to start a new chapter. I don't know what I'm going to do and to me, that's exciting."
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The five-time National League All-Star first baseman entered play Sunday with 2,505 hits, 367 home runs, 1,397 RBIs and a .317 lifetime batting average. And that's about where he will finish. His .954 OPS is 20th all-time and among the top at his position. Yankees great Lou Gehrig is third overall and leads first basemen at 1.080. Babe Ruth and Ted Williams finished ahead of Gehrig.
Helton said earlier in the season he wouldn't return as a part-time player or with any other club than the Rockies. Add moving over to the American League as a designated hitter. Thus, just past his 40th birthday, he decided to call it quits.
"Playing part time, that wasn't appealing to me," Helton said. "I'm used to going out there playing every day. To me, it's not worth the travel and the time being away from home just to get a pinch-hit here or there. If they had the DH in the National League it might be a different story. But they don't, so here we are."
Helton wasn't in the starting lineup on Sunday against the D-backs and manager Walt Weiss said he would play Helton intermittently during the season's final two weeks. Helton will take about a year off, he said, before contemplating the future, which might include a return to the Rockies organization in some yet-to-be-defined capacity.
"I haven't talked to them about that, no," Helton said. "Yeah, it might be something I'd like to do somewhere down the road. The idea of retiring is to get away from it for awhile. I do know baseball. Hopefully, if I ever want to get back into it, they'd talk to me."
Helton said his announcement came at this point because he wanted to give Rockies fans a chance to see him one last time as the club embarks on its last nine-game homestand of the season Monday night against the Cardinals. His last game at Coors Field could be for the home finale on Sept. 25 against the Red Sox.
"It was brought up to me last week that I couldn't look at it from my perspective, that I had to look at it from the fans'," Helton said. "That it would be selfish if I didn't [announce it now], and I never thought of it that way. Once I heard that, I said, 'Let's do it!' We're going into the last homestand and I wanted to go into that homestand knowing it would be my last."
Helton just concluded a two-year, $9.9 million contract extension and came off hip and knee surgery to play this season. Right now, he's a .244 hitter with 13 homers and 52 RBIs in 112 games, far below his own expectations.
For an organization that expanded into the NL along with the Florida Marlins in 1993, Helton is the one true Rockie. There is Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla and Larry Walker, to name a few great players who put Colorado on the Major League Baseball map, but all of them started and ended their careers elsewhere.
Helton was taken by the Rockies with the eighth pick of the 1995 First-Year Player Draft, and after a little more than two seasons in the Minors, he was brought up to the big club for good on Aug. 2, 1997. By the next season, he was installed as the starting first baseman and, save for games missed because of injury, that's where he has remained.
Finishing his career with the Rockies was a no-brainer. The highlight?
"Obviously, making it to the  World Series," he said. "That was great. Do you wish you had won a World Series? Obviously, yes, I wish I had won a World Series. But I look at it that I'm very blessed and fortunate to have gone to a World Series. To be in the same organization and to have made it a World Series are very important to me. I look at all the things that we did accomplish, not the one thing that we didn't."
Helton was a big part of the 2007 team that went to the World Series and was swept by the Red Sox, hitting .320 with 17 homers and 91 RBIs that season. The Rox won 21 of their last 22 games to get to their only Fall Classic. Those were the glory days. Helton's come close to those numbers only twice in the five seasons since, playing in a career-low 69 games because of injuries in 2012.
Helton holds the club records for homers, doubles, hits, RBIs and runs scored. There's no one else even close.
Helton said he knew for awhile that the end of the road was near, but he kept his plans for retirement close to the vest primarily because he didn't want anyone to make a fuss. He didn't want to take the same path of announcing early as Chipper Jones did last year with the Braves and Mariano Rivera this year with the Yankees. The last thing he wanted was a farewell tour.
"Coming into the season, I probably knew this could be my last," Helton said. "I wanted to be 100-percent sure. I didn't want to say I was going to retire and then come back. You never want to do that. I wanted be 100-percent certain that I was done. That I wasn't going to come back. I got there in the last few weeks, just talking to my wife, listening to my body. Not only my body, but mentally how I felt going out there for every game.
"At 40, it's time to go. It's a young man's game, and when you get to 40 … I think I've accomplished a lot in this game. I made a lot of good friends and got to do a lot of great things. And so, I'm just excited to start another chapter in my life."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.