Todd Helton to retire after 17 seasons with Rockies


Most figured the end was coming for Todd Helton. The 40-year-old first baseman confirmed it to the Denver Post’s Troy Renck on Saturday, announcing his retirement at season’s end.

Helton said he felt going into 2013 that this would be his last year, though he has had second thoughts from time to time.

“During the season I definitely wavered. It usually wasn’t from having a great game. I just enjoyed the competition, and I felt like I had bat speed. That’s what I will miss. The competition. I don’t know how I will replace that yet. There were days, I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this one year,’ ” Helton told the Denver Post “Then ultimately, it’s the travel, being away from the family. It is just time.”

Helton, who has dealt with back problems for a half-dozen years, has managed to stay relatively healthy in 2013, but the production hasn’t come back. He’s currently hitting .244 with 13 homers and 52 RBI in 112 games.

At .317/.415/.539, Helton has the slash line of a Hall of Famer, and he played like one in his prime years, even after accounting for the Coors Field effect. Still, he probably wasn’t quite good enough for long enough to get into Cooperstown. Famously the backup quarterback Peyton Manning at Tennessee, he didn’t establish himself in the majors until age 24, and back problems led to diminished power numbers from age 31 onward. It won’t help his case that his high finish in the MVP balloting was fifth and that he went to a mere five All-Star Games.

On the other hand, there’s a whole lot to be said for ranking 20th all-time in OPS. He’s also 16th in doubles with 585. He won a batting title in 2000 and finished in the top five in average seven times. He also finished in the top five in OBP eight times and in slugging four times. He topped 40 homers twice, with a high of 49, and drove in 147 and 146 runs in back-to-back years. He won three Gold Gloves for his play at first base. WAR says he was the NL’s best player in 2000, which is when he finished fifth in the MVP balloting.

Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 million in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.