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Helms Award has a proud, illustrious history
02/18/2012 2:59 PM ET
SYDNEY, 18 February - The Helms Award has been presented annually to the most outstanding player of the Claxton Shield competition since 1962, with the exception of 1990-99, when the original Australian Baseball League presented its own Most Valuable Player Award. The award gets its name from the now-dissolved Helms Athletic Foundation, based in Los Angeles, California in the United States.

Paul Helms, who founded the foundation along with Bill Schroeder, was an American sports philanthropist whose foundation selected annual National Championship teams and presented All-America honours in college football and basketball, the two major American university sports. They also operated halls of fame for professional football, Major League Baseball, the Pacific Coast League (Minor League Baseball), basketball, golf, tennis, swimming, auto racing, and track and field.

The Helms Award in Australia was first presented to the Australian Baseball Council (now known as the Australian Baseball Federation) in honour of Ron Sharpe, one of Australia's greatest baseballers who received the Helms Athletic Award in the United States in 1950 for his feats. The award is still known as the Ron Sharpe Trophy.

Sharpe was a 2005 inaugural inductee into the Australian Baseball Hall of Fame and a 1986 inductee into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. He achieved great acclaim for his performances representing South Australia from 1921, when he was first selected to the state team at age 16, to 1946, when he retired after representing his state for 18 seasons. In addition to his playing career, Sharpe was a baseball reporter for the Adelaide News from 1923 to 1953 and also served as a coach and administrator.

The Helms Award has had many noteworthy recipients throughout its 50 years of existence, from Hall of Famers like Laurence Home and Alan Albury to Olympians Richard Vagg, Rod van Buizen, Craig Lewis and Brett Roneberg, to current ABL players such as Brad Dutton. Read below to find out more about some of the outstanding former winners and click here to see the full list of former honourees.

Next week, we will profile this season's finalists Brian Burgamy of the Cavalry and the Heat's Tim Kennelly and Warwick Saupold. The 2012 Helms award will be presented at the Baseball Australia Diamond Awards in Sydney on 25 February.

Selected former winners:
1962 - Anthony "Tony" Strand - New South Wales
The 1962 Claxton Shield was the 23rd annual competition, but the first in which the Helms Award was presented. Strand was the inaugural winner despite the fact that his New South Wales side finished in third place, with Victoria taking home their seventh title and Western Australia finishing as the runners-up. Strand pitched in five games during the competition, picking up three wins.

1966 - Kevin Greatrex - South Australia
Greatrex was an inaugural inductee into the Australian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005 and is a member of the SA and Australian teams named to the Claxton Shield 75th Anniversary Team of the Century in 2009. He was first selected to the South Australian State team at age 13 and went on to represent Australian baseball for over 20 years.

Kevin spent time in the United States with the Cincinnati Reds minor league system and played during tours of Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Europe. When he signed with the Reds in 1967, he joined 2012 Hall of Fame inductee Dick Shirt as the first Australians to play professionally in the US.

Greatrex has too many accolades to name, but one of the most impressive is his run of 15 years as captain of the Australian national team, from 1968 to 1982. He spent time as the President of the South Australia Baseball Association and was a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers and Montreal Expos. While with the Brewers in 1987, he signed Dave Nilsson.

1983 - Doug Mateljan - Western Australia
Mateljan was a 2010 inductee into the Australian Baseball Hall of Fame after a 22-year club baseball career with the Morley Eagles, Wanneroo Giants, and Swan Districts. He represented Western Australia in the Claxton Shield from 1978 to 1987, finishing with an astonishing .343 overall batting average.

He was also a representative of Team Australia at the junior and senior levels from 1976 through 1986. After his career, he served as General Manager of the original Perth Heat from 1996 until 1999.

1987 - Dave Nilsson - Queensland
No brief summary can capture the standout career of Nilsson, the most well-known Australian baseballer and contributor to the game. The Sport Australia and Australian Baseball Hall of Famer signed his first American professional contract in 1987 at age 17, the same year he won the Helms Award. He would eventually go on to play eight seasons at the Major League level for the Milwaukee Brewers, finishing his career with a .284 batting average, 105 home runs, and 470 RBI. In 1999, he became the first Australian to participate in the MLB All-Star Game.

Nilsson's impact on Australian baseball has been longstanding and immense. He played and coached for the Gold Coast Clippers, Daikyo Dolphins, Brisbane Bandits, and Waverly Reds in the old ABL and holds the record for career batting average in the, with a .358 mark, and also had the highest career slugging percentage and on-base percentage. He became the majority owner of the league in 1999 and renamed it the International Baseball League of Australia.

Nilsson was also a key member of Team Australia's two most important international successes, the 1999 Intercontinental Cup, in which the team won its first-ever Gold Medal, and the 2004 Athens Olympics, where they took Silver. He hit .379 with a Cup-high 12 RBI to win MVP honours in the 1999 competition and batted .296 and threw out five of eight base-stealers in the 2004 Olympics. He also appeared for the national team in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, batting for an amazing .565 average.

1988 - Tony Adamson - Western Australia
Adamson, yet another Australian Baseball Hall of Famer, is the former ABL home run champion. He is also the father of the 'Alcohol Think Again' Perth Heat's Corey Adamson, who is signed with the San Diego Padres. When Tony retired from play at just 31 years old, he held the Australian Baseball League record with 71 home runs (with now ranks seventh), and also ranks sixth in batting average (.313) and RBI (252).

He represented Australia in the 1988 Olympics before becoming a force for the Perth Heat. He was an All-Star in the league's inaugural season and the next year he set the new home run record with 17, also batting .379 with a league-leading 52 RBI in 41 games. He led the league in home runs again the following season and would continue to rank among the leaders for the following years. He also spent time as a player-manager for the Heat.

2000 - Chris Snelling - New South Wales
Snelling, who was born in the United States, grew up in Australia and has represented the national team in multiple competitions. He hit two home runs in Team Australia's victory over Mexico in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He also represented his country in the 2009 Baseball World Cup.

Snelling signed with Major League Baseball's Seattle Mariners in 1999 and made his MLB debut on 25 May, 2002. He has played at the Major League level for four different organisations in his career, for a total of 93 games. The last of these teams was the 2008 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies, which also featured Brad Harman.

2005 - Brad Harman - Victoria
The aforementioned Harman won the ABL home run title this season, smashing 15 for the Jet Couriers Melbourne Aces. He also played excellently in leading the team to a runner-up finish in the Championship Series, providing the game-winning hit in Game Two and displaying his well-known outstanding glove work. He was named Player of the Series in Round Two after hitting three home runs on the clinching day.

Harman signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2003 and made his MLB debut for the 2008 championship team, becoming the only current ABL player to own a World Series ring. He played six season in the Phillies system, picking up 575 hits and 50 home runs.

He has also represented Team Australia in international competition, including the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics and the 2007 and 2009 Baseball World Cups. In addition to his 2005 Helms Award, Brad was also named the Golden Glove winner for that year's Claxton Shield competition.

2011 - James McOwen - Adelaide ETSA Bite
McOwen, who now plays for the two-time ABL Champion Heat, won the award last season as a member of the Bite, the first year it was presented to the Most Valuable Player of the Australian Baseball League. He truly was the league's best player last season, finishing first in home runs (11) and tied for first in RBI (30). He also finished third with a .340 batting average and led the Bite to a second-place finish, losing the Championship series to Perth in three games.

This season, the Seattle Mariners prospect joined the Heat and helped his new team to win their second consecutive Claxton Shield. He hit a big home run off Travis Blackley in the Game One victory and continued to pick up big hits and make impressive defensive plays throughout the series. In the end, it was McOwen who raced home to score the series-winning run on Andrew Russell's wild pitch in the 13th inning of Game Three.

McOwen was also the starting centre fielder for the World All-Stars in the ABL All-Star Game, but his impressive feats are certainly not confined to this continent. In 2009, he notched a 45-game hitting streak at the Single-A level, the longest in California League history and eighth-longest ever for a minor league player. He batted .271 with 19 doubles, 10 home runs, 53 RBI, and 11 stolen bases at Double-A in 2011.

This story was not subject to the approval of the Australian Baseball League or its clubs.