A recurring scene in my life (and yes, I know I don’t come off well):
FADE IN: INT. DOCTOR'S OFFICE -- DAY Jeff sits on the doctor's exam table. A nurse stands next to him with her stethoscope on his arm. NURSE: Your blood pressure is 118 over 72. That's really good! Jeff feigns confusion. JEFF: Really? I thought that was pretty normal. [Pretends to suddenly understand.] Ohhhh, you mean really good for a big fat guy! The nurse stammers uncomfortably and leaves the room. END SCENE
I don’t want to be a killjoy. In general, I subscribe to the “live and let live” philosophy of life, and this is no different. I am not here to tell anyone how to think or what to like or to stop doing what you’re doing. I’m just here to tell you why I, personally, can’t stand the Bartolo Colon worship that is going on among baseball fans and everyone else even remotely connected to the game. My reason is simple:
It’s just so gosh darn condescending.
I was listening to the Effectively Wild podcast the other day, hosted by Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus and Ben Lindbergh of Five Thirty-Eight. It’s a fantastic podcast, and I highly recommend it. (Sam and Ben also recently wrote a book about their experience running the baseball operations department of the Sonoma Stompers, an independent baseball team in California. I am only about 100 pages in, but it is very good so far.)
Anyway, this is not a commercial for Sam and Ben, but I did want to make it clear that I think they are great before I disagree with them.
One thing I really like about Sam is that he asks questions. He hardly ever makes declarations — I can tell he just likes to think about stuff. When it comes to baseball, that is about my favorite attitude for a person to have.
The other day, Sam asked a very interesting question. Another podcast had discussed the theory that the reason people like Bartolo Colon is because he is big and fat, so every time he does something awesome it seems even awesomer because it was done by someone who looks like Bartolo Colon instead of by someone who looks like (for example) Bryce Harper or Yoenis Cespedes.
Sam’s question was:
“So, why are we not horrible for this? … There’s this part in ‘Of Mice and Men’ where George and his friends are laughing at Lennie, and Lennie thinks they’re laughing with him, but of course they’re laughing at him. And George ends up feeling tremendous guilt over this, and I think that the reader also feels guilt, as the reader has also perhaps laughed at Lennie along the way. … Clearly, Bartolo is not Lennie, but, you know, Bengie Molina was this guy for a while, not to the same peak, but he was this guy. Bengie had a period where he was beloved because he was so slow. And then, one day, it was revealed that Bengie Molina hated this joke. Like, he took a ton of offense to it. … Even Bartolo Colon has expressed unhappiness with being the butt of jokes. I forgot about this and rediscovered it … he does not like being thought of as a ‘fat ballplayer.’ So, why do we not feel tremendous guilt over this? Should we?”
Ultimately, Sam and Ben discussed it, and they came down on the side of not feeling guilty. Sam’s reasoning:
“I think the resason that we don’t, maybe, need to feel guilt is that this is actually recognition that Bartolo is us. I mean, he’s infinitely more athletic than us and in much better shape, probably, and we see in him ourselves, only a godlike version of ourselves that has crashed this party.”
Now, again, I am not going to tell anyone how to feel. I don’t think anyone intends to be offensive to Bartolo, so I am certainly not going to ascribe malicious intent where there clearly is none.
But just like the nurse at the doctor’s office who never means to be offensive in complimenting my perfectly normal blood pressure, there is a certain amount of subconscious condescension when people oooh and aaah over a guy who had a 4.13 ERA (87 ERA+) over the past two seasons.
Is it impressive what Colon has done the past few years? Yes — because he is old. Very few pitchers remain kinda-almost-league-average into their 40s, especially as a starter. The fact that Colon can hold down the number-five spot in the starting rotation of a good team in his age-43 season is impressive and should be celebrated.
But people don’t call him Junior, or Babyface, or Rookie, or Grandpa, or Greybeard, or Old Man, or any other nickname related to his age. They call him Big Sexy.
Simply put, very few of Bartolo’s accomplishments that Twitter goes crazy for are actually that impressive unless you put “for a fat guy” at the end of the sentence. Remember when he picked off A.J. Pierzynski at first base?
It was a rare play, sure — you hardly ever see a pitcher freeze a runner and tag him out himself. But if it were any other pitcher, you would have seen it on the highlights that night and now, 13 months later, if I brought it up in an article you’d think I was insane. “Remember when Jeremy Hellickson picked off A.J. Pierzynski at first base?” Of course you don’t. Jeremy Hellickson isn’t fat.
What about the time Bartolo did the behind-the-back flip to Lucas Duda at first base on the slow roller hit down the line?
Was it cool? Sure. Definitely worth watching on the highlights the next morning. You’d probably even show it to your son and say, “Check out this cool play.” Because it was a cool play, even though Justin Bour would have been safe pretty easily if he had hustled down the line instead of thinking the ball had gone foul. It was cool. Was it dazzling, or majestic, or insane? Did its nimbleness defy belief? Should it have broken the Internet? Let’s see what Google thinks…
You were wrong! It wasn’t just cool. It was all those other words, because Bartolo is fat!
I’m not offended on Bartolo’s behalf. I’m not saying he is (or should be) offended. I’m saying that the collective obsession probably does him a disservice and, frankly, treats overweight people like lesser beings. The way he is treated, he is the exception that proves the rule, and in this case, the rule being proved is “fat people are generally useless.”
When we marvel that Bartolo Colon can do amazing things on the baseball field even though he’s a big fat fatty, what message does that send to overweight people who aren’t good enough to play in the big leagues?
The thing is, Bartolo Colon is not “us,” as Sam opined. At least not an “us” that includes the mostly skinny people obsessed with him. It’s not a conscious thing. I know no one intends to be offensive when discussing Bartolo, and I believe that the joy is genuine. But there are probably a lot of overweight people out there who look at it and feel a bit like Lennie, realizing that all the skinny Georges are actually laughing at the fat guy, not with him.