Todd Helton is easily one of the best baseball players who ever played for the Colorado Rockies. Sure, Hall of Famer Larry Walker played some of his best years in Denver, but Helton played his entire career for the team. Yes, he’s had some personal issues, including DUI arrests after his playing days, but it seems he’s pulled himself together in recent years.
Considering the crazy offensive numbers that Helton put up over his 17-year Major League Baseball career, you’d think he’d be in the Hall of Fame. In fact, he was first eligible for the Hall in 2019, but received just 16.5 percent of the vote. He moved up to 29 percent of the vote in 2020. Then, in 2021, he got a large boost to 45 percent. That’s still well short of the necessary 75 percent of baseball media voters to mark him on their ballot, but it seems Larry Walker’s induction could help matters.
Look at these baseball card numbers: a .316 batting average, 2519 hits, 592 doubles, 369 home runs, and the 18th highest OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging) mark in Major League history. The only issue is that Coors Field, thanks to the much thinner Colorado air, tends to favor power hitters and bloats their offensive production. Helton’s 133 OPS+ makes him only 33 percent better above average when considering the high offensive floor of his playing days and park effects. That moves him down to just 139th all time in the OPS+ category.
However, Helton was also an excellent dfensive first baseman, winning three Gold Glove awards for his strong efforts at fielding his position. He also walked many more times than he struck out, unusual for a power hitter (1335 walks vs 1175 strikeouts). Overall, his Wins Above Replacement mark of 61.8 is 17th all time for first baseman. That’s not far off from Willie McCovey (64.5 WAR) and Joey Votto (64.4). McCovey is of course a legendary Hall of Famer and part of the 500 Home Run club, while Votto is a current player actually quite a similar player to Helton. He also has more WAR than another 500 Home Run Club player in Harmon Killebrew and slightly more than defensive wizard Keith Hernandez (who probably should be a Hall of Famer, too).
All that being said, Helton was always underappreciated, as he never hit major milestones such as 3,000 hits or 500 home runs. He was also a bit underrated in the baseball card hobby, too, only receiving two true rookie cards. Both cards are extremely similar, and one is much rarer than the other. His first, and most recognizable card, comes from 1993 Topps Traded, which features players from the USA National Team. The 1993 Topps Bazooka version is nearly identical, but features a Bazooka logo behind Helton’s bat, and it only came as part of a complete set in special tins. The Bazooka versions don’t come up for sale often, but the Topps Traded card is one that has been rather affordable for some time. I happened to have an eBay gift card for ten dollars in October 2021, and snapped up a roughly $10 copy for what amounted to be around $1 with tax included.
Helton was still in college when this photo was taken and he was playing for the USA National team in the 1992 Summer Olympics. He looks immensely serious and the Easton aluminum bat used for the Olympics is on proud display on Helton’s left shoulder. It’s a perfectly fine rookie card, and Helton is the most successful of all players in the USA Baseball subset of 1993 Topps Traded, with Nomar Garciaparra and Jason Varitek also being the other notables. There are other cards early in Helton’s career that some collectors might assume are rookie cards, but the 1993 Topps Traded and its Bazooka parallel are the only two true rookie cards.
When graded, Todd Helton Topps Traded rookie cards fetch a decent return. PSA 10 Gem Mint copies can sell for as much as $150 thanks to his increasing ballot support for the Hall of Fame. Even PSA 9 Mint copies fetch about $50. I strongly considered buying a PSA 9 copy for myself, but decided I was fine with a clean raw copy for my card collection. With over 5800 copies graded by PSA, there are predominantly 9’s, with almost 3900 examples in existence. You can still find sealed complete sets of 1993 Topps Traded if you know where to look, so it’s not the rarest card out there. I decided I was fine with just his raw rookie, although the PSA 9 prices seem perfectly fair and you can rest assured you have an investment worthy copy, if one with little upside.
If you want to be a high roller on Helton, though, you could seek out a graded copy of the Topps Bazooka card, which will set you back about $250 for a PSA 9 and perhaps over $1000 for a PSA 10. Strangely enough, neither Nomar Garciaparra or Jason Varitek are in the Bazooka set, although there are a few other players in the Bazooka set who went on to have a few good seasons in Major League Baseball. There are only 87 examples of Todd Helton’s Bazooka card graded by PSA, and there are 37 PSA 9’s and 29 PSA 10’s as of November 2021. So, if you happen upon one of these, you will have a sports card collector treasure if Helton makes his entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame in coming years.
Do you think Todd Helton is worthy of a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame? I certainly do!