Overtime: On Bartolo Colon

Originally published in The Fordham Ram on November 16, 2016.

colon

Signed as a 40-year-old, Bartolo Colon became a fan favorite for the Mets. (Courtesy of Wikimedia).

As someone who is infatuated with baseball at its most ludicrous, Bartolo Colon represents to me the pinnacle of human achievement. A listed 285 pounds of man continuing to throw a mid-80s fastball at the age of 43 is worthy of all the praise, and, according to the Atlanta Braves, $12.5 million.

My reaction to the Braves signing Colon away from the Mets can be fully summed up by the single tear emoji. I’m sad, but not overwhelmingly so, and I also understand that being upset about it is at least a little ridiculous. The Mets certainly don’t need him, considering they pull good young pitching out of thin air so often that I wouldn’t be surprised if Tim Tebow suddenly pitched better than he threw a football.

But needs and wants are two totally different things, and I want Colon in New York for more reasons than one. In terms of his actual skill, he was incredibly reliable during his three years as a Met. He went 44-34 with a 3.90 ERA, 3.79 FIP and 422 strikeouts to just 86 walks. He was a stable arm in the rotation, serving as more than just an innings-eater despite his age. He was even an All-Star last season.

But while Colon’s Jamie Moyer-esque late-career success was certainly a huge asset for the Mets, that wasn’t what made him one of the most beloved Mets in recent history.

It’s because he’s fat, people. In the greatest bodyshaming reversal of all time, Bartolo “Big Sexy” Colon is fat and proud, and the fans love it. One of baseball’s greatest GIFs is Colon shaking his belly in the Mets dugout. There exists somewhere in this world a Colon bobblehead with bobblebelly action, because sometimes everything is just as beautiful as we wish it to be. Baseball Twitter mainstay Lana Berry posited maybe the most important question of our time on her podcast: is his stomach rock solid, like some sort of incredibly over-pronounced six pack?

There is nothing more entertaining in sports than watching Colon confound hitters with both his stuff and with the sheer fact that he is still pitching at his age while looking like a life-size Buddha statue.

Colon was a solid pitcher for what amounts to a full career for many. From 1998, his first full season, to 2005, his age 31 season, in which he won 21 games for the Angels and won the Cy Young Award, he amassed a 3.85 ERA and 1,369 strikeouts. But in 2006, he barely pitched due to inflammation in his shoulder, and in 2007 he was just awful to the tune of a career-worst 6.34 ERA in 19 appearances.

So at the age of 34, it seemed like Colon’s long (long enough that he is the last player in the MLB to have played for the Expos) and generally good career was coming to a natural end. He tried to cling on, signing one-year contracts with the Red Sox and White Sox in 2008 and 2009. He then didn’t pitch in 2010 to rehab from a stem cell transplant in his shoulder to rehab various tendon and rotator cuff injuries. He somehow made a comeback at the age of 38 with the Yankees, which started with a spring training invite that he showed up to 30 pounds overweight. But he managed to do well enough for a one-year, $2 million contract from the A’s, which is where things got interesting.

That year, 2012, Colon tested positive for testosterone, earning him a 50-game suspension. But the A’s believed in him enough to give him a one-year, $3 million deal in 2013. Yes, those Moneyball A’s gave a 40-year old pitcher coming off of a 50-game suspension an even bigger deal than the one he got the year before. And somehow, it paid off. Colon posted the best ERA of his career in 2013 at 2.65.

And that, my friends, is how a 41-year old pitcher got a two-year, $20 million contract (plus one more one-year, $7.25 million deal) with the Mets to become the unlikeliest fan favorite. Among proven steroid users, he is the most beloved of all time, and it isn’t particularly close. If you think back to some of the best Mets moments of the past three years, a lot of them involve Big Sexy.

The best moment of what was a comparatively disappointing 2016 came courtesy of Colon. I’m not exaggerating when I say it is one of my favorite baseball moments of all time. “The impossible has happened!” exclaimed Gary Cohen on May 7. “This is one of the great moments in the history of baseball.”

On that day, Colon — whose inability to swing a bat is one of his most endearing qualities — hit his first career home run to left field, giving the world hope that anything is truly possible. It might have been off of James Shields, but it still counts.

Cohen wasn’t being hyperbolic in calling Colon’s home run one of the greatest moments in the history of baseball. Nothing is better than when baseball doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, whether it’s physics-defying breaking balls or an undeniably rotund pitcher being more specifically athletic than your average baseball fan. So when Colon and his beloved 285 pounds hit a home run just as unlikely as Kirk Gibson’s, Mets fans put it right up there with the 1986 World Series.

In three short years, no one was a more improbable fan favorite than Bartolo Colon. Here’s to his reinvention as a bench bat.

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