“Big Sexy: Bartolo Colon In His Own Words”
with Michael Stahl
Illustrations by Meagan Ross
The publishing info:
Released May 12
The review in 90 feet or less
Big Bart was in the news recently. On his 47th birthday, as a matter of fact, right before Memorial Day.
“I’m not retired,” he proclaimed. “I know this is not a sport for the old, it’s for the young. Even though I’m not playing right now, I tried to keep fit.”
An Associated Press story pointed out that for Colon, it’s still a numbers game. The number 46 is more important that 47, because if he can just log 46 more innings with a big-league team he will have passed Juan Marichal with the most by a Dominican pitcher. Colon already passed Marichal in career wins with 247.
When the 2019 MLB season started, Colon also made some news by not playing: The fact he wasn’t on any roster, combined with the retirement of Adrian Beltre, meant that there no longer any active players left from the 20th Century.
Kind of a jarring headline, but you figure it out.
If we’re talking more numbers about Colon here:
With the new book “Big Sexy,” it measures 7×9 inches, which may not seem to be all the relevant, but in the book world, it’s a bit odd shaped. Maybe on purpose, consider Colon’s, eh, physique?
(To which, we refer to a quote of Colon’s on page 188: “Sometimes in my career, I heard fans yelling at me things like ‘Fat boy’ or ‘Eat some more hamburgers’ or ‘Eat some salads so you can lose weight, you fucking fatty.’ They think I don’t understand, but I do. It never bothered me, though. … When it comes to my body, I feel good the way I am; that’s all that matters.”
(And as for whether he understood the English fans were yelling: “I speak English better than most people know, but I’m much more comfortable with Spanish … I’m not sure if the opportunity will ever come about because of the language barrier with me, but if I were asked to be a pitching coach somewhere, I think I woudl like that. It would be an honor.”)
It only has 208 pages, but that’s not an issue either, because it’s very visually driven. Words are important, but this isn’t close to any of the expanded bios one might find these days on any athlete.
In a word, this is somewhat ground-breaking. It’s a hybrid of a graphic novel and a magazine story, with bold/pastel colors that would seem to be geared more toward a teen than a seasoned baseball fan who recalls all he did for the Angels during his 2005 Cy Young season (21-8, 3.48 ERA, 4.0 WAR for AL West champions, with 84 percent share of the vote ahead of runner-up Mariano Riviera).
The typeface on the glossy pages flexes from large to normal and entire pages are dedicated to pullquotes. It’s broken up by double-page mini-stories – interjections from people in his lives, including former Angels general manager Bill Stoneman, who signed him in a free-agent bidding war back in ’04, and current Angels star Albert Pujols.
Colon’s stories from the cacao fields of the Dominican Republic to building a baseball academy there and now spending more time there with his father and grandfather is very heartening to read. The explanation of how he got his “Big Sexy” nickname really isn’t much to reveal.
But he isn’t short on coming out with headline-making quotes himself, some concerning his time in Anaheim after signing a four-year, $51 million deal:
In my first season with the Angels I had a 5.01 ERA and there were many people in the media who gave me a lot of crap, saying maybe the contract was a mistake and I wasn’t worth the money. To that I say, first, I won eighteen games, which matters a lot in my mind. You pitch differently when your team scores a lot of runs for you and I felt I threw much better than my ERA may have shown. I also stayed healthy and tossed over two hundred innings. Yes, at times it didn’t go well and I gave up more home runs than I would have liked: thirty-eight, the most in a season during my career …
I worked to get better that off-season .. And then the very next season in 2005, I won the Cy Young.
And that came with a rather dubious ending.
In Game 1 of the 2005 playoffs, the Yankees “knocked me around pretty well early.” Colon started Game 5 but he couldn’t finish the second inning with his back and arm already hurting, and now his shoulder gave out on him. Colon was out for the ALCS against the White Sox, who went to the World Series and won it.
“I was not in a good place mentally, to say the least … I was never the same player physically either.”
His last two seasons with the Angels in ’06 and ’07 to finish his four-year contract didn’t produce anything memorable. His four years in Anaheim: 46-33, 4.66 ERA, 94 games, 4.2 WAR after -0.2 and -0.8 his last two seasons).
After that came controversial stem-cell surgery, a resurgence with the A’s and New York Mets (72 wins over a five-year period from 2012-16, and setting a Guinness Book of World Records by becoming the oldest MLB player to hit his first home run, at age 42, in San Diego), and then trying to pile up innings and wins in Atlanta, Minnesota and Texas to further what seemed to be a drive to post enough career marks to make a Hall of Fame induction seem reasonable.
Whether or not I ever pitch in the Major Leagues again, I hope people who love baseball remember me for my longevity, how happy I was playing the game, how I treated people and how I was able to build great relationships with the fans. To be honest I would love it if the Baseball Writers’ Association of America would elect me to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I know that one big mistake I made with the A’s hurts me and my career ERA, which is above 4.00, doesn’t help either. The way the writers vote is out of my control; it’s up to them. However in my mind, and in the minds of my family, friends and the people of the Dominican Republic, I am a Hall of Famer.
How it goes in the scorebook
This doesn’t put the “X” in big sexy, but it marks a spot of demarcation in where to take a bio if you’re thinking outside the batter’s box.
Recent praise posted for this comes from Ben Reiter, author of “Astroball,” struck with us most: “One of the most beautifully made sports books I’ve ever seen.”
There’s plenty of merit in that statement, because this could be one of those instances where book publishers re-think how they do athlete bios if they want to resonate with younger readers – not so much tweens or YA, but those who grew up reading voluminous chapters of a person’s life and may be exhausted in the time and investment needed to finish these in more than a couple of sittings.
Abrahms publishing is an interesting choice for this book, having a history of focusing on art and illustrated books, children’s books and stationery. All those come into play here.
With the input of Stahl, a freelance journalist who has written for Rolling Stone, Vice and Huffington Post, there’s a new edginess about how to tell a story and keep it in their voice. Stahl also has done web content and has a background in education, plus digital and social media marketing that comes into play.
It’s not to say someone else can’t do a far more “complete” bio on Colon, especially if someday his Hall of Fame candidacy comes up for more closer consideration and those who measure things in different ways now could devise a Bert Blyleven-type strategy that certifies his career as one that’s worthy of lofty consideration.
On Baseball-Reference.com, Colon’s 21-year career that spans Cleveland, Montreal, Chicago White Sox, Anaheim/L.A. Angels, Boston, New York Yankees, Oakland, New York Mets, Atlanta, Minnesota and Texas between 1997 and 2018 gives him an 88 on the “Hall of Fame” monitor when ~ 100 is a “likely” candidate. He’s in the ballpark with Hall of Famers Jack Morris and Jim Bunning, but more likely in the group bunched up with Andy Pettitte, Dennis Martinez, David Wells and CC Sabathia and Luis Tiant.
If Colon doesn’t play again, he’s targeted for the 2024 Hall of Fame ballot, one that will include many in his same “very good/should get in eventually” category – Beltre, Chase Utley, Adrian Gonzalez, Joe Mauer and David Wright. So why wait?
He’s never been a real post-season star (3-5, 3.49 in seven years of appearances, including 0-1 in 3 1/3 innings of the 2015 World Series with the Mets). The four-time All Star is 50th all-time in career wins (and 57th in losses), 30th in games started, 76th in innings pitched. Yet a book presented in this way — to a younger group of Hall of Fame voters — it could be as effective as handing them a portfolio of his career work, numbers versus contribution, and make a compelling case.
Yup, it would be kind of a kick to see him reach a fourth decade of contribution to the game’s enjoyment. Any team that takes him on would be gaining a crowd pleaser and a presence in a clubhouse based on his approach to the game.
For the good of the game, a Big Sexy rejuvenation ain’t such a bad idea. Maybe this book helps keep him on the radar.
Previous mention of Big Sexy
Back on April 25, we included “Big Sexy” as an afterthought to the otherwise unimpressive “Wits, Flakes, and Clowns: The Colorful Characters of Baseball,” only because we had trouble procuring a review copy.
We wrote: “With his oversized stature, Harpo Marx crop of hair and playful nature, Colon reinvented himself several times, but his apparent discomfort speaking fluent English with reporters was also part of his mystique. Putting “his own words” now into a book, we hope, will be somewhat refreshing. Should it ever come out.
(Also: Look at the cover. What team is he pitching for? That’s about the worst rendition of a Topps baseball card we’ve ever seen).”
This is the 36th entry in our extended “30 for 30” new baseball book reviews for 2020 — expanding beyond the 30 titles and the 30 days of April, due to pandemic circumstances and the ability to cover more ground for those who need a diversion. The complete list is updated at our TheDrillLA.com site and will continue to add titles as they become available and pertinent.