Pitchers used to bat. Regularly. Not like Ohtani who actually will accomplish something at the plate. This was a regular occurrence in the National League and the usual ninth batter was the proverbial “easy out.”
Today this has been replaced with the DH and has robbed us of the opportunity to see the ambitious but slightly outmatched pitcher vs pitcher matchup. Tens of thousands of people watching, many more on television and the pitcher would take his place in the batter’s box, hell bent on proving to his teammates, manager, the girlfriend he got great seats for and all the folks back home that he takes batting practice for a reason!
We will never again see the ambition and, dare I say, gusto, of the swing of one Bartolo Colon.
If you follow Bartolo on Instagram he still pitches in many ways. He pitches in sandlot games, he works out with kids, and just recently announced his formal “retirement” from the game after attending Old Timer’s Day in New York where Edgardo Alfonzo complained that he still pitched like he was an every day player.
He ended his career with 247 wins, an ERA of 4.12 and 2535 strikeouts. He won the Cy Young in 2005.
He also would swing the bat so hard his helmet would come off.
And he didn’t seem to care.
He would just laugh and keep playing. And kept swinging.
It was a thing of beauty. The ambition to hit the ball out of the park combined with completely missing the pitch, eyes closed and the helmet tumbling off of his head.
Against the Orioles he actually hit the helmet with his backswing.
He lost his helmet twice in one at bat against the Braves and in another at bat against the Braves punched a hit into right field to give the Mets the lead all while the helmet tumbled to the ground.
The crowds loved it. It was fun. It wasn’t so much about losing the helmet, it was the ability to keep trying and put real effort in when the easiest route would be to just stand at the plate and swing half heartedly knowing that no one expected him to get a hit and no one would blame him for a lack of effort. He later claimed he asked for a bigger batting helmet because it was so much fun for the fans.
The thing about trying every single time, even when no one expects you to do anything with the effort, is that sometimes you put the bat on the ball in the right way. For all the times that the helmet fell off, for all the times that he struck out, for all the times that he went to the batter’s box with the opposing team thinking “easy out”, in 2016, 19 years after his major league debut, Bartolo Colon connected.
The helmet stayed on his head in San Diego as he reached for a pitch low and outside and hit it. The ball sailed into left field, clearing the fence and even the San Diego crowd cheered.
The joy on his face when he rounded the bases was palpable. The Met’s Gary Cohen proclaimed “The impossible has happened” while his partners in the booth laughed. The team went crazy and then hid in the tunnel until after he returned to the dugout when they mobbed him.
How many times can you try at something and not succeed but still keep stepping in? How important is that goal for you? Is it fun just to be a part of the game? At the end of it all, are you remembered for your effort, or something more? If you don’t step in and risk the helmet falling off, you won’t hit the home run.
For all the times that the helmet fell off, guess what Colon still has after a long career in baseball?
Not the oversized helmets.
He kept the bat he hit the home run with.