A great player, a great guy.
Bartolo Colón is every bit the baseball hero you might have guessed. Both on the field and off. His autobiography Big Sexy: In His Own Words chronicles Colón’s baseball and non-baseball career, from his childhood throwing rocks at fruit in trees through his last days of Major League glory with the New York Mets.
Biographies and autobiographies are notoriously self-aggrandizing. I typically avoid them. Spare me the flowery embellished praise and revisionist history of actors and politicians. Bartolo Colón is a different story. By all accounts one of the best teammates and personalities ever to wear an MLB uniform, I figured it worth a few hours of my time to learn a little more about his background.
This guy worked his father’s fields in the Dominican Republic picking cacao, avacados and coffee all the way through the offseason after winning Minor League Player of the Year with the Indians. Just a few months later he’d join Manny Ramirez in Major League camp and go on to becoming a borderline hall of famer.
A man of his community.
Colón built a baseball academy—the Bartolo Colón Baseball Academy near where he grew up in El Copey. He describes it as one of his greatest accomplishments, providing 20-25 teenagers aged 12-19 a familiar environment to practice and get better at baseball—with free room and board.
“There’s a bronze statue of me in front of the stadium, too. It captures me in the middle of my windup. It isn’t life-size, though; that would have been too expensive.”
He’s had a few players reach the Major Leagues, and several reach the upper minors.
Colón has purchased much of the land nearby and has built up a church, a restaurant and even provided the town its first firehouse. Every Christmas he hands out hundreds of baskets of food. He’s a man of his community.
He talks about some of his greatest memories on the field, including his excellent complete game victory over the stacked New York Yankees in the 1998 ALDS, his 38 strikes in a row record with the A’s in 2012, and of course his home run off of James Shields at age 42 (the oldest any player has hit his first home run).
The 38 strikes in a row feat was really something:
And obviously the home run is one of the greatest moments in baseball history. That’s not sarcasm:
…aaand of course the behind the back toss on the slow grounder towards first base:
OK, I’ll leave you to dive down the Bartolo Colón youtube rabbit hole from there…
The other day I was wondering about the definition of cynicism. Google’s answer:
“1. an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest; skepticism.”
I’m not convinced that definition is 100% on point. But I was reminded about this take on cynicism while reading Big Sexy. Bartolo Colón is the opposite of a cynic and it drips from every page. His approach to everything from on-the-field struggles, personal relationships with players, coaches, front office execs, heckling or even downright aggressive fans, health and addiction issues, and personal tragedies is met with positivity and geniality.
Take this recollection from a bullpen appearance with the Mets:
“Utley slid late and hard into our shortstop, Ruben Tejada, who couldn’t make the throw to first. Ruben also broke his leg. The Dodgers scored the tying run on the play, and the umpires then allowed Utley to stay on second base. Eventually we lost the game.”
And that’s the end of it. Any normal human being would be furious with Utley even in retrospect and happily spit fire in their autobiography. Not Colón. Every 10 pages there’s a sentence like and I thank God the A’s gave me a chance to pitch for them or some other infectious positive spin. As something of an everyday crank, such unyielding positivity refreshes the soul.
For anyone else who could use a change of pace from deep-dives into the state of the game type books like The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Nonconformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players or Future Value: The Battle for Baseball’s Soul and How Teams Will Find the Next Superstar (yikes, those titles are a mouthful), you might just get a kick out of Big Sexy.
I was able to read the whole thing in about two hours. English is Colón’s second language (written with help from co-author Michael Stahl), with simple, very readable writing. I like the presentation as well – every 5-10 pages there are quotes from former players or Colón’s coaches/front office execs.
As one of baseball’s most iconic folk heroes Bartolo Colón and his autobiography deserves a spot in your baseball library.
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