Replacing a legend is tough. Replacing a legend with a former MVP makes the transition easier.
2014 marks the first season in 18 years without Todd Helton at first base wearing the purple and black. While the 2013 season marked the Helton farewell tour, the 2014 seaon marks the beginning of the post Helton era and a new everyday face at first base. That new face is Justin Morneau.
Morneau, the 2006 American League MVP while with the Minnesota Twins, signed a two-year, $12.5 million dollar contract over the winter to become the Rockies everyday first basemen. Aside for the money the contact should have specified that Morneau would be taking the place of a legend and the face of the Rockies for the last 17 years.
Such pressure and expectations in replacing a legend would normally cripple any young or average player. Justin Morneau is not one of those. While Morneau, at age 32, is past his MVP prime, he is still an effective everyday first basemen. More importantly Morneau, being a former MVP, four time All-Star, two time Silver Slugger, and a veteran of the Canadian World Baseball Classic team, will not be daunted by replacing Helton.
So far that appears to be true.
In the early going of the young 2014 season, Morneau appears apt to the task of replacing a legend. As of this writing, Morneau is batting an impressive .333 with 3 home runs and 10 RBI’s . Aside from Morneau’s prowess with a bat his career .996 fielding percentage at first base is identical to Helton’s.
Morneau may not feel any direct pressure in replacing Helton , but the combined scrutiny of the Denver media as well as any Rockies fan who remembers the nearly two decades of excellence from Helton is certainly on Morneau. Every time Morneau strikes out at the plate or can’t dig a ball out of the ground at first for an out the comparisons to Helton will be made. However, as stated above Morneau is uniquely qualified to take the shoes of a legend given his past pedigree.
During the 2010 season, Morneau suffered a concussion after sliding into second base. Effects from the concussion would plague Morneau for the rest of the 2010 season and force him to be sidelined for the remainder of the season and during the playoffs. Another concussion, while with the Twins in 2011, contributed to his on field decline.
If the recent emphasis on head injuries in professional sports, specifically concussions, has taught both fans and athletes anything it is that concussions do not heal on a normal injury time line. Nearly three years later, Morneau’s concussion symptoms seem to be behind him and so far his play has reflected that.
Replacing Helton at first base would have been a challenge for anyone. However, Morneau as a vertern, who was uncermeonial castoff from the franchise he was once considered a cornerstone of after experiencing the high of being an MVP and the low of two injury riddled season, has not shown that Helton’s shadow over first base intimidates him. And why would it?
At this point in his career, Morneau is probably just happy to be an everyday first basemen again.