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Helton’s .400 pursuit shouldn’t be tainted

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There might be asterisk next to this one.

It would be as unfortunate as the one some wanted to slap on Mark McGwire's home run record in 1998 because he took the diet supplement commonly known as Andro.

Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton has hit .400 later into the season than anyone in 20 years, but because he's doing it playing half the time in the thin air at Coors Field, it is somehow diminished.

The last player to hit .400 was Ted Williams, who finished at .406 in 1941. And despite all the grumbling about watered-down pitching, slide-stepping and bandbox ballparks in recent years, the last guy to come close was George Brett, who was at .400 on September 4, 1980.

"There are Coors bashers out there and there's nothing you can say that will change their minds," Tony Gwynn, the San Diego Padres perennial .400 candidate, told the Denver Post. "All Todd can do is say, 'Hey, this is the team that drafted me, this is where I play and there's nothing I can do about that.' And that should be good enough.

"People who understand the game, they know that Coors or no Coors, Todd's been hitting the ball hard. The way I see it, .400 is .400."

At Coors Field, Helton is batting .425. What's as impressive is, away from the high elevation, he's at .360 - second only to the New York Mets' Mike Piazza. Helton batted .655 on the Rockies' most recent trip, a span of nine games.

Nineteen of the Rockies' final 35 games are at home. He left for a trip Friday batting .393, and he's at .394 heading into Monday's game at Philadelphia. .

He is also leading the National League in hits (181) and doubles (49), and is second in RBI (114). He also has 31 homers and plays an excellent first base. None of that matters to many fans outside of Colorado, if what happened with McGwire is any indication.

McGwire batted .299 and had a record 162 walks in 1998, but what people cared about was how many homers he could hit — and how far he could hit them.

"No matter what he does from now on, he's had a great year," McGwire said. "But all anyone wants to know about him right now is can he hit .400? It will be something he will have to come to grips with. Do I think he has a legitimate chance? Yes, I do. But it will be very, very, very difficult."

Part of stress, McGwire pointed out, is from the intense media scrutiny, the inevitable 'Helton Watch' in every newspaper, the constant questioning by reporters.


Latest dates at or above .400 since 1980

Year Player Team Date

1980 George Brett K.C. Sept. 4

2000 Todd Helton Col. Aug. 21

1993 John Olerud Tor. Aug. 2

2000 Nomar Garciaparra Bos. July 20

1997 Larry Walker Col. July 18

1983 Rod Carew Cal. July 7

1993 Andres Galarraga Col. July 5