Bartolo Colon: Return of the living dead

Barton Colon gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “steady diet of fastballs” — apparently he pops ’em back like popcorn at a doube feature. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

After the World Series has been played and the season is officially over, all teams change their focus toward how to win more games the next season. They look at players to trade for on other teams, who to promote from their minor league teams and, most importantly, who to sign in free agency.

This is especially true with the big spenders like the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies. But sometimes there aren’t enough top-flight players available and teams are forced to make do with the leftovers.

Such was the case this past off-season when the Yankees lost out to the Phillies on signing pitcher Cliff Lee. The Yankees, who thought they had Lee for sure, then had to scrape along the bottom of the barrel to fill out its pitching staff. One of the players they found down there was Bartolo Colon – a heavyset player who hadn’t played in about two years and who seemed more frightening at an all-you-can-eat buffet than on the pitcher’s mound.

He immediately became a punch line for Yankee haters: “This washed up fatso is the best you can do?” And a source of embarrassment for Yankee fans: “This washed up fatso is the best we can do?”

Hey, I’ve got nothing against fat guys. And baseball is really the only sport where you can be overweight and still perform at (pretty much) the highest levels. Look at the San Francisco Giants last year; they were the champs and the left side of their infield weighed in at just shy of an actual ton. And don’t give me any of this “golf is a sport” crap either. Golf is a recreation. Just because you keep score and use your body doesn’t make something a sport. If those were the only criteria, there’s a lot of other stuff we’d have to call sports – like Scrabble or billiards or sex.

John Daly proved that golf is not a sport. I rest my case.

As much as I like to make fun of soccer for being a fake sport (because it is), all that running around and not scoring requires a great deal of athleticism. But in baseball, the skill sets for some of the positions do not require as much athleticism as others, which accounts for players coming in all shapes and sizes.

Back to my point: Bartolo Colon. Regardless of his pitching performance, this guy has one of the most fun names in baseball to say – right there with Coco Crisp and Albert Pujols – though not quite as fun as oldtimers Johnny Dickshot and Rusty Kuntz. And now that I think about it, Bartolo Colon and Albert Pujols should get together and start a movement. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. What can I say? I like poop jokes.)

My all-time favorite baseball player name is Mike Sweeney. I always smile when I hear that name. I guess you could say that Mike Sweeney makes me smile. For a while, most pitchers were afraid of Mike Sweeney, but later in his career, Mike Sweeney was ineffective. (Sorry, I could literally do this all day. What can I say? I like weenie jokes.)

Back to my point, again: Bartolo Colon was once one of the best pitchers in the game, but the last couple years of his career were mediocre, and his 2008 and 2009 campaigns both ended with injuries. He disappeared from the game in 2010, and we all figured he had just gone gently into that good night and had gone home to roll around on his giant piles of money.

When he signed with the Yankees in the off-season for a little less than a million bucks, I think most people just figured it was for one last paycheck. He made the team during spring training and started the 2011 season as a relief pitcher, and on April 20th he started his first game and won it.

Despite his roundness, Bartolo has been pitching well this season – very well, in fact. And every statistical measure you can find is saying that it’s for real and not just some fluky, random event – like Bartolo ordering a salad. One could even make an argument that he’s been the best pitcher on the team. Bartolo’s teammate Alex Rodriguez recently said, “Bartolo is throwing like a legit starter. A1A stuff.” (Though I assume he didn’t mean A1 Steak Sauce.)

But how could this happen? How can someone fall apart and look to all to be dead and gone, and then return to dominate younger, faster and thinner competition? Now, before you start throwing around accusations like steroids or HGH or Zombieism, here’s the deal: What we didn’t know was that in April 2010 he secretly got a transplant of stem cells from his fat and bone marrow (of which he had plenty) into his previously injured shoulder.

It’s kind of an amazing advancement in medical technology, but it’s not really that surprising because it’s not really unprecedented (so, I guess that means that it’s precedented). Yes, it’s the first time we’ve heard of this procedure in baseball, but in the last few decades, we’ve been building towrd this.

I knew Steve Austin, Bartolo. And you, sir, are no Steve Austin.

In the ’70s there was “The Six-Million Dollar Man” – We have the technology; we can rebuild him. Steve Austin is an astronaut whose life is saved by giving him bionic implants. Back then, six million dollars seemed like a lot of money, but now that’s like something on the Taco Bell Value Menu in government spending terms. There was also a bionic woman – most people don’t know that her bionics cost seven million dollars – but I’m sure most people are not shocked that a woman spent more.

In the ’80s there was “Robocop” – Part man, part machine, all cop. Peter Weller plays a cop who is shot to death in the line of duty and is brought back to life as a robotic policeman (that’s why they called it “Robocop” – pretty self explanatory). This decade also brought us such cyborg classics as “Blade Runner” and “The Terminator” and my personal favorite “Weird Science.”

In the ’90s there’s a whole bunch of cyborg sequels. And there’s also “Johnny Mnemonic” – Keanu Reeves’ character stores a memory chip in his head or some such nonsense, but we can’t really count this one because his technology integration was more of an elective procedure and not really to save his life. So, in that decade, in terms of cyborgs, that pretty much just leaves Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct.”

In the 2000s – or the double zeros or whatever we’re calling them – there was “I, Robot” with Will Smith. I know what you’re thinking: “Aw, hell no!” But his character did have a robotic arm. It’s not really a big part of the film until (very conveniently) the final action sequence.

So now we have Bartolo Colon and his stem cell transplant. Major League Baseball is currently “investigating” this procedure to see if it’s “legal.” These guys are so slow with current technology, I just picture everything they do is in black and white with everyone speaking in those old-time voices: “Hey, fellas, check out the gams on that broad.” “Wise up, see, before I punch you in the kisser.” “Let’s make whoopee after we drink our whiskey sours.”

Stem cell transplants are a part of modern medicine, you can have a peek at these guys to learn more about it. There’s already an “approved” medical procedure where baseball players take a piece of ligament from one part of their body and implant it into the elbow. It’s called the Tommy John surgery, named after the first player who got it. I hope they go a different direction when they name this stem cell transplant procedure – getting a “Bartolo Colon” sounds like a new kind of enema flush.

Just this past weekend, Bartolo was mowing down Cleveland Indians batters like they were just so many Pancake Puppies at Denny’s. (Okay, that was my last fat joke – I promise.) Anyway, late in the game with the Yankees winning the game easily, Bartolo injured his hamstring while running to first base. (Ugh, now I’m regretting my decision to stop the fat jokes – but I did promise.)

The Yankees aren’t sure how serious the injury is or how long he’ll be out of action. But I’m not worried for Bartolo. It’s just time for him to call in the doctors who worked on his shoulder or Oscar Goldman (obscure “Six Million Dollar Man” joke) or whomever, and let’s get some stem cells transplanted.

They have the technology – they can rebuild him.

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