Bartolo Colon makes me laugh. That doesn't sound like a good reason to endorse his pitching opening day for the Mets, but I think the two are connected.
Colon’s nomination to pitch in Philadelphia next Monday has caused a great amount of chatter in New York because Matt Harvey is acknowledged as the ace.
I say Colon held the Mets together – relatively, that is -- with his rubbery arm and impassive face, after Harvey went down and before Jacob deGrom and Zach Wheeler settled in. There is a place in the 162-game schedule for symbolic events like opening day, even on the road, to honor a pitcher for making them respectable in most of his 31 starts.
Not only that, but Colon made me laugh – not once but twice – in a revealing new book: “Baseball Maverick: How Sandy Alderson Revolutionized Baseball and Revived the Mets,” by Steve Kettmann, published by Atlantic Monthly Press. (The most interesting figure in the book is Alderson’s jet-fighter pilot dad, John.)
There hasn’t been much fun about the Mets in recent years, but Alderson has been plugging along with what his budget allowed. He gave serious access to Kettmann, an astute reporter who has worked in Oakland, New York and Berlin and now lives in California. Alderson was an early advocate of computers and new ways of judging talent, and somehow he was flexible enough to recruit portly, much-traveled Colon as that handy-dandy implement, the inning-eater. No pitching staff should be without one. Now he lets the Mets coddle their young talent early in the chilly season.
We all watched Colon perform like a stubborn old work- horse last season, showing no interest in batting or running toward first base when he happened to make contact. For that matter, Colon is not that much interested in fielding his position. But Colon – who turns 42 in May -- pitched 202 1/3 innings, with a 15-13 record and a 4.09 earned-run average.
Early in the season, Kettmann, in the clubhouse, observed Colon and Gonzalo Germen “playing an elaborate game of hide-and-seek. Colon squeezed his porcine bulk just past me to hide in a corner locker, grinning as he pulled one door closed to hide himself within.”
So Colon has an inner fun guy, the fourth Stooge – El Gordo. Months later, Kettmann, who speaks Spanish (and German) introduced himself to Colon, with no purpose other than civility.
“Colon then grunted that he had to sign baseballs, as if that had anything to do with anything," Kettmann wrote. "I smiled at this, since we both knew how deeply redolent of bullshit it was, but moved away from him and there he sat, doing nothing, for the next half hour, not twitching a muscle.”
All reporters get stiffed. (Ask me about the Roman Catholic cardinal from the U.S. who popped a 180 in a narrow corridor, robes flowing, rather than talk to me.)
Kettmann sums up Colon’s evasive tactic: “That was the man’s genius: He didn’t think too much, and he didn’t care about anything except having a good time, making jokes, staying loose, and going out every five days and throwing a lot of darting fastballs. You could plug him in for twelve to fifteen wins and 180 to 200 innings, even on a sub-.500 team, but don’t ever expect him to go out of his way to try harder than necessary.”
Colon kept the Mets competitive last year – a su manera, his way. Whatever baseball logic this makes, this is the Mets’ way of thanking him for his version of respectability.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.