Starting pitcher Bartolo Colon of the Oakland Athletics looks on from the dugout as he earned the win against the Colorado Rockies in an 8-5 win during Interleague Play at Coors Field. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Bartolo Colon was suspended for 50 games for taking testosterone. Here's why that should probably annoy you, if it didn't make you sad or angry already.
The first instinct was to title this "The Tragedy of Bartolo Colon", but that's obviously too heavy-handed. No one passed away. No one lost their home. A team paid millions to a millionaire to do a job, and now they won't have to pay that last million or so while he takes some unpaid leave. Bartolo Colon's career might be over, or close to it, but it probably was getting there anyway.
The reason the word "tragedy" even popped into my head is because it's sad. Not really for Colon, though. His suspension is a kick in the crotch to the people invested in the most exciting A's team in six years. I'm a casual A's fan, so I could just roll my eyes and make stupid jokes, but I have a lot of empathy for most of the die-hard A's fans. The ones who don't treat me like I poop in church pews because I root for the Giants, at least.
But the suspension should annoy you, the general baseball fan, quite a bit. Even if you have no investment in the A's or the AL West, you should still look at Colon and say, dammit. come on. Not because he did something that tainted the sanctity of the game. Because, well, I have a spoiler to share. The team that eventually wins the World Series will include a player taking enough testosterone to grow a second pair of gonads under their armpit. The difference between Colon and that player will be our collective ignorance.
No, the suspension should annoy you because it takes away one of the best comeback stories of the past few years, and it also screws up the best comeback stories of the future. Bartolo Colon was a baseball phantom, a Cy Young winner who stopped being healthy and productive the very next season, as if he were a made-up story that pitching prospects told with a flashlight to their face in front of a campfire. After the award, he lost five straight seasons to injuries. He was Brandon Webb, but older.
And then … poof! Bartolo Colon was back, and he was helping a Yankees team that suddenly needed a lot of rotation help. He tired toward the end of the season, but for the first four months, he was an extremely valuable asset.
I don't necessarily want to get into what should be made legal and illegal, the difference between enhancing and healing, or any of the other medical ethics behind the performance-enhancing-drug debates. But I don't think that it's controversial to state that the theories regarding his comeback were a helluva lot better before the failed test. Training in the form of a cinematic montage? Much better. Some sort of weird, controversial surgery? That's a little different, but okay. His body miraculously healing for no discernable reason? Fine.
All of those theories were better than the truth. Instead, one of the best comeback stories of the decade happened because of something that Major League Baseball does not allow to happen. I have no idea how much of the comeback was because of the testosterone, or at least the willingness to take things that weren't allowed. Probably a decent portion. Dunno.
But Colon's was a story that made me optimistic. It made me think good thoughts about oft-injured pitchers like Mark Prior and Rich Harden, Brandon Webb and Mike Hampton. There's nothing worse in baseball than a talent that can't stay on the field. After five years of not staying on a field, Colon was the exception to the rule. He was, if I can get a little mawkish, inspirational. See? Colon did it, and he was almost 40. Keep trying to come back, broken pitcher. Yet the success story probably shouldn't have happened.
Now every rare, unlikely comeback is going to be subject to unfair scrutiny. We've had cases where a mediocre player might have turned good (Melky Cabrera), a great player might have turned elite (Ryan Braun), or a bad player turned into a guy who could hang around a major-league roster (most of the suspended players). But we hadn't had the guy who climbed out of the medical coffin yet. Colon's test takes away one what was previously nothing but a good story.
Dammit. I hate this stuff. Maybe a better title, then, would be "The Tragedy of Bartolo Colon Getting Caught," because I'm sure there will be other comeback stories out there that aren't clean, and I'd just as soon not know about them. That's not the most ethically defensible position, but it's probably the best way for me to enjoy baseball.