A solid second baseman for a number of years, Helms played with Cincinnati at the beginning of their fabled Big Red Machine days. However, he didn’t stick around for all the glory. The Reds shipped him and Lee May to the Astros to land two key pieces to their machine: ballhawk Cesar Geronimo and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan. But Helms was a star in his own right. He was named to a pair of All-Star teams, won two Gold Gloves and was named Rookie of the Year in 1966.
A natural second baseman, Tommy was forced to play third his rookie season because the Reds were using Pete Rose at second base that year. The change in position didn’t hurt Tommy as he set personal highs in homeruns and runs scored–figures he’d never match throughout his career. Helms also sparkled defensively with a fielding percentage seven points above league average. He also saw action at his primary position, second base, in twenty games and fielded 97 chances without an error. The Reds decided to move Rose out from second and allow the superior fielding Helms to claim the post.
Able to play up the middle, where he belonged, in 1967, Tommy made his first All-Star team. He would duplicate the feat in 1968. Although he wasn’t a big basher, Helms was a solid batsman who was one of the most difficult strikeout victims of his time. In ’68 he fanned every 18.8 at-bats which was good for the fourth best percentage in the NL. That year he also set a personal high in batting average with a .288 mark in a pitcher’s era. But it was with the leather where Helms shined.
Tommy won his first Gold Glove in 1970. That year he began a four-year string of turning over 100 double plays. At his best with the glove in ’71, Helms turned 130 double plays, and led second basemen in putouts and fielding percentage. His amazing .990 fielding percentage was twelve points above league average. But the Reds, who made the World Series in 1970, failed to repeat as National League champs so they looked to shake things up a bit. They dealt Tommy and power slugging first baseman Lee May to Houston for Morgan, Geronimo, Jack Billingham and Denis Menke. The deal made the Reds contenders again but Houston remained in the second division where they had always been.
The trade to the pitcher-friendly Astrodome actually helped Helms’ batting average. With Cincy he had hit as low as .237 but with Houston Tommy raised his batting average up to .287 in 1973. That year Tommy participated in 104 twin-killings and fielded his position at a nifty .988 clip. Still keen with the batting eye, Tommy was the second most difficult player in the senior circuit to fan–he whiffed every 25.9 plate appearances. The 1974 season would be Tommy’s last good season. He hit .279 and paced second basemen in fielding percentage but his offense dried up in ’75. From that moment on he was strictly a reserve player. He ended his playing days with the 1977 Red Sox.
G 1,435/R 414/H 1,342/2B 223/3B 21/HR 34/RBI 477/SB 33/BB 231/SO 301/BA .269/OBP .300/SA .342