Bartolo Colon turns 47 on Sunday. In honor of his birthday, here are 47 things you need to know about one of the most improbable careers in recent history.
(Editor’s note: This story originally ran for Colon’s 45th birthday, but two years later Bartolo is still amazing us all)
1. He pitched in the majors at 45! You can probably guess that it’s pretty unusual for a 45-year-old to be pitching in the majors. Colon became just the 16th MLB pitcher since 1900 age 45 or older. How old is he? Gleyber Torres of the Yankees homered twice off him in 2018. Torres was 3 months old when Colon made his major league debut in 1997.
2. Colon has 247 wins. That’s a lot of wins! That puts him 50th on the all-time list. He passed Juan Marichal for the most by a Dominican pitcher and Dennis Martinez for the most by a Latin American pitcher.
3. He didn’t play organized baseball until he was 14. In a 2015 profile in the New York Times, Colon said he learned his work ethic from his pet donkey, Pancho, whom he used to ride to the baseball field. Colon later built a training complex for young players in his hometown of El Copey and memorialized Pancho with an illustration on a wall of the complex.
4. Colon signed with the Indians in 1993 for $3,000 — only after he was sent home three times after tryouts with the Indians and told he was too short. The Dodgers and Royals told him the same thing. (So says one profile of Colon; others make no mention of the initial rejections.) When he first signed, the Indians insisted Colon was 18, not 20. His real age was exposed in 2002.
5. With his blazing fastball, Colon rose quickly through the minors, and Baseball America ranked him as the No. 14 prospect heading into his rookie season in 1997. He was squeezed between Scott Rolen (final major league season: 2012) and Derrek Lee (final season: 2011) and was the fourth-best pitching prospect. Ahead of him: Kerry Wood (No. 3), Matt White (No. 4) and Kris Benson (No. 8).
6. The home run:
On May 7, 2016, Bartolo Colon turned on an inside fastball from James Shields and launched a home run that was as improbable as it was historic. Colon became the oldest player to hit his first major league home run.
7. “Anytime I see a fastball I swing hard because I’m not a curveball hitter.” — Colon after hitting his home run off the Padres’ James Shields in 2016
8. “We all kind of said, ‘What would we do if Bartolo hit a home run?’ That made everyone’s career to witness that.” — Mets second baseman Neil Walker
9. It took 19 seasons before Colon connected for that home run. It was entertaining not just because it was a robust human being smashing a leather sphere over a fence but also because Colon is one of the worst hitters in major league history, with an .085 career average, 163 strikeouts and one walk (shame on you, Robbie Ray). The home run was completely unexpected, and that made it even more wonderful.
10. The player with the most home runs off Bartolo: Alex Rodriguez, with eight. He hit .411 and slugged 1.000 against Colon.
11. The player Colon faced the most: Ichiro Suzuki. In 118 plate appearances, Ichiro hit .299 with three home runs.
12. The biggest of those hits came in Game 4 of the 2001 division series. With the Indians leading the series and the score tied 1-1 in the seventh, Ichiro’s two-out single gave the Mariners a 2-1 lead. Seattle won that game and took Game 5 as well.
13. Of course, we joke about Colon’s weight. But check out a relatively skinny Bartolo from his first career shutout in 1998:
14. His weight, however, became a concern early in his career. When he signed a four-year extension with the Indians in 1999, the club included an incentive clause giving him $12,500 each time he weighed 225 pounds or less during four weigh-ins each season.
15. When Colon signed with the Angels in 2004, a Los Angeles Times writer asked his former GM in Cleveland about Colon’s work ethic. “Among his strengths are his mental consistency, his ability to be poised, to not get rattled or carried away, and still rise to handle the big moments,” Mark Shapiro said. “That was an evasive answer, huh?”
16. Colon’s career high in strikeouts came on May 29, 1998, when he fanned 14 in a 7-3 complete-game victory over the Blue Jays at SkyDome. Jose Canseco was in the lineup (he fanned twice), and the Toronto starter was Roger Clemens.
17. The best game of Colon’s career was a one-hit, 13-strikeout shutout of the Yankees on Sept. 18, 2000 — with Clemens again the opposing starter. That produced a Game Score of 97, the only time Colon topped 90 in his career. The only hit was Luis Polonia’s one-out single up the middle in the eighth inning. “When Polonia got that hit, I felt like I’d gotten punched in the chest,” Colon said.
18. Earlier in that game, Kenny Lofton made an iconic catch when he robbed Jorge Posada of a home run:
(OK, this item doesn’t have much to do with Colon, but it’s a proper excuse to run a Kenny Lofton highlight.)
19. After the game, Indians pitching coach Dick Pole called it one of the best pitched games he’d ever seen. “The most impressive part was his control,” Pole said. “To be throwing that hard and hitting spots the way he was, that was amazing.”
20. Colon won the Cy Young Award in 2005, when he went 21-8 with a 3.48 ERA for the Angels. It was not a good choice. Johan Santana, who finished third in the voting (also behind Mariano Rivera) should have won and would win today, as voters pay more attention to the overall picture. Santana went 16-7 with a 2.87 ERA, led Colon 238-157 in strikeouts and allowed 16 fewer runs while pitching nine more innings. He had 7.2 WAR to Colon’s 4.0.
21. Cy Young trophies fly forever, however, and in that New York Times profile, Colon said the best moment of his career was giving his Cy Young trophy to his father.
22. After his Cy Young season, Colon ran into a long string of injuries. From 2006 to 2010, he started just 47 games and went 14-21 with a 5.18 ERA. When he missed the entire 2010 season due to rotator cuff damage and a sore elbow, it appeared that his career might be over. Instead, he has won 89 games since returning with the Yankees in 2011 and making two All-Star teams (giving him four All-Star trips in his career).
23. Colon’s first All-Star appearance came in 1998. He was credited with the win, even though Barry Bonds crushed a three-run homer off him. And we have the video!
24. Other All-Stars that year included Ben Grieve, Dean Palmer, Andy Ashby, Rick Reed, Aaron Sele and Fernando Vina. When’s the last time you heard any of those names mentioned? Colon has been around forever.
25. In March 2010, he received a controversial stem cell transplant to help damaged tissues. Doctors had used human growth hormone in similar surgeries, but those who performed the surgery for Colon said they did not use it on him. MLB investigated the surgery and eventually cleared Colon.
26. Alas, in August 2012, then with the A’s, Colon received a 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone. As a reminder, the A’s won the AL West that year. Colon was still under suspension when the team lost to the Tigers in five games in the AL Division Series.
27. In 2016, the New York Post broke the news of Colon’s “double life” with his “secret family.” A New York woman filed a claim that Colon had failed to pay child support for the two elementary-school-age kids she had with Colon, who has been married since 1996. The two sides eventually signed a confidentiality agreement.
28. When a guy has lasted this long, I like to check out the box score for his first career game and see who played in that game. Colon debuted on April 4, 1997, for the Indians in Anaheim. One of Colon’s teammates was Julio Franco, who had debuted in 1982 with the Phillies as a teammate of Pete Rose, who had debuted in 1963. Playing for the Angels that day, however, was Eddie Murray, who was Rookie of the Year in 1977. Playing a few games for the Orioles in ’77 was Brooks Robinson, who made his debut on Sept. 17, 1955, a time when three teams had yet to integrate their first black players.
29. Who says the big guy can’t run?
30. Alas, Colon has never stolen a base. That won’t surprise you. It also probably won’t surprise you that Colon has never taken the extra base as a baserunner, such as going first to third or second to home on a single. Granted, he has had only 16 such opportunities, but he’s 0-for-16.
31. Colon’s career record at Safeco Field is an amazing 14-1 with a 1.98 ERA in 16 starts. As was pointed out on Twitter at the time of his last start there, Colon is so old that he pitched at Safeco in a playoff game (the joke being that the Mariners have the longest playoff drought in the majors, and that playoff game came in 2001).
32. Which begs the question: Colon pitched for 11 teams, but why not the Mariners?
33. Back in 2012, Colon threw 38 consecutive strikes in a start for the A’s. Here are all 38:
34. That’s what made late-career Colon so amazing. He pounded the strike zone and did it almost exclusively with fastballs. He had one of the highest rates of fastballs of any starter in the majors, at 81.4% for his career. He lost velocity over the years, but his ability to manipulate the pitch, to cut it and sink it and hit the corners, is something all young pitchers could learn from.
35. “He is the master pitcher,” Mets announcer Ron Darling once said.
36. Colon once described his key to success like this: “I stopped being a village boy, thinking I can throw any stone, any rock, through a wall, and started thinking I could be a guy who could last longer by taking something off my fastball and not depending on only throwing hard.”
37. Colon was involved in one of the best trades in Indians history. With the Indians dismantling the great team that won six division titles in seven seasons from 1995 to 2001, Colon was traded (with Tim Drew) to the Expos for Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore (and Lee Stevens). Those three minor leaguers went on to produce 101.4 WAR … yet Colon has somehow outlasted all three.
38. In a sense, Colon is the last Expo ever. He was the last active player who played with the Expos.
39. Who says the big guy can’t field his position?
40. Just for fun, a comparison to Hall of Famer Jack Morris:
Colon: 247-188 (.568), 4.12 ERA, 106 ERA+, 47.8 WAR
Morris: 254-186 (.577), 3.90 ERA, 105 ERA+, 44.0 WAR
41. Of course, Morris was a starter for three World Series champions (’84 Tigers, ’87 Twins, ’92 Blue Jays), and he pitched for the ’93 Blue Jays, though not in the postseason. Colon appeared in seven postseasons but just one World Series, with the Mets in 2015. He’s 3-5 with a 3.49 ERA in his postseason career.
42. Colon was the losing pitcher in relief in Game 1 of that World Series, coming on in the 12th inning and losing on an unearned run in the bottom of the 14th.
43. Yes, he’s a professional athlete:
44. In that game against the Mariners, he took a 102 mph line drive from Jean Segura off his gut and still recorded the out. His comment after the game? “I have a lot of big belly, so I can take it.”
45. In September 2017, he showed no mercy … against 12-year-olds.
46. He’s an author! His book, “Big Sexy: In His Own Words,” came out this month. Watch out, Hemingway.
47. He’s making a comeback! In February, he signed a contract to pitch for the Monclova Acereros for 2020 and yearns for one more season in the majors. Keep pitching, Bartolo, keep pitching.