New York Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon hit his first home run on Saturday. Two weeks shy of his forty-third birthday, Colon becomes the oldest player to hit his first career home run, breaking the record set by Hall of Famer Randy Johnson in 2003 at the age of forty. The homer was served up by San Diego Padres pitcher James Shields, who probably didn’t envision it as one of his signature moments with the team since signing with them before last season.
Colon’s pitching has been solidly average over the past couple of seasons with the Mets (a 32-27 record, 4.01 ERA and 1.22 WHIP), but he’s become something of a folk hero for his adventures with the bat in his hands. His helmet flying off, his Pillsbury Doughboy physique and his relative lack of batting experience – most of his 19 seasons in the majors were in the American League – have joined up with social media to create many Bartolo jokes and memes. His first-ever home run trot, in fact, was widely compared on Twitter to the Kentucky Derby earlier that day as the most fun two minutes in sports.
Colon came up with the Cleveland Indians in 1997 and carried many fewer pounds than he does now. He was traded to the Montreal Expos in a 2002 deal that will go down in history as one of the worst ever for the team, since they parted with prospects Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips to get Colon for that year’s pennant drive. He pitched well for them but the team faded and eventually disappeared from baseball entirely while those guys went on to stellar careers. Remarkably, Lee and Sizemore’s careers have likely played out even though the veteran they were traded for keeps going. Colon is the last major leaguer to have worn an Expos uniform, thus being the answer to many future sports trivia questions.
Colon went on to pitch for the Chicago White Sox (twice), the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Oakland A’s and Anaheim/Los Angeles Angels, for whom he won the 2005 Cy Young Award. Less discussed, but still part of his record, is a 2012 suspension for PED usage and a 2010 surgical procedure that involved a stem cell transplant but which was found to not violate any of baseball’s rules.
Colon will probably shift to the bullpen and do some spot starting later this season when Zack Wheeler returns to the rotation. This man has been pitching since the Clinton Administration, yet here in 2016 he keeps adding to his unique legacy. Here’s the home run, which elicited great joy from the dugout, the Mets fan who thought ahead and brought a Colon-head cutout, and the entity known as “Baseball Twitter.” Take a look and appreciate that we’re seeing a one-of-a-kind player here. Also, his helmet actually stayed on his head.