Bartolo Colon’s Deal with the Devil
As you probably know, Bartolo Colon and the A’s beat the Pirates last night. Colon is now 12-3 and his 2.69 ERA is the third best in the American League, less than a basis point behind Felix Hernandez and less than a tenth of an earned run behind leader Hisashi Iwakuma. Colon is 40 years old this year, eight years older than Iwakuma and 13 years older than Hernandez.
Bartolo is listed at 5’11” and 265 lbs but may actually weigh more. He suffered a partially torn rotator cuff in 2006 at age 33 and was plagued by shoulder and elbow problems for years before making a comeback in 2011. Yet he’s now arguably pitching as well as he ever has.
Nothing suspicious about that. At least not if your ESPN.com writer David Schoenfield. According to Schoenfield, we must all give Colon his due because of the great year he’s having. Schoenfield writes that “[t]here’s nothing fluky going on with Colon,” just “pin-point location” on his fastball which averages 90 mph and which Colon “crank[s] … up to 96 on occasion.”
How many 40 year old pitchers with Colon’s body type and history of shoulder problems still have the arm strength to routinely throw a baseball 90 mph with pinpoint control, let alone occasionally cranking it up to 96? If you can name one such pitcher in baseball history, I’ll buy you a nice lunch.
Yet, Schoenfield never once mentions the elephant in the room in his page-long article. I haven’t forgotten Bartolo Colon’s 50-game steroids suspension last August — have you? Do you think there’s a reasonable possibility that just maybe Colon’s still juicing?
Here are some more uncomfortable facts. Colon’s comeback in 2011 was attributed at the time to an experimental transplant of stem cells which Colon received in the Dominican Republic in March/April 2010. However, that scandal sheet, the New York Times, reported that the doctor who performed the procedure on Colon had administered human growth hormone on patients who had previously received this treatment, but that he hadn’t used HGH on Colon. Hmm…
MLB conducted an investigation at the time and found no wrong-doing, but it’s unclear (and in fact highly doubtful) whether MLB was able to review Colon’s actual treatment records or was able to question Colon’s doctors under oath. Medical records are highly confidential, and MLB does not have subpoena authority. In fact, MLB wasn’t even testing for HGH at that time.
In August 2012, Colon tested positive for synthetic testosterone and was suspended. He has since been linked to Biogenesis America, the anti-aging clinic in South Florida accused of providing performance enhancing drug to approximately 20 other major and minor league baseball players. [For what it’s worth, South Florida is famous of its steroids-issuing “anti-aging” clinics, and Joseph R. Purita, the doctor who administered Colon’s March 2010 treatment, is described by the NY Times as running a “regenerative medical clinic in Boca Raton” — doesn’t prove anything, but it’s sure a lot of smoke.]
If a baseball player, who has never tested positive for steroids or been confronted with significant evidence of PED use, has a sudden, unexpected improvement in performance, he deserves the benefit of the doubt, at least until significant evidence of PED use emerges. Examples of players entitled to a strong presumption of innocence include Raul Ibanez in the first half of 2009, Jose Bautista starting in 2010, or Chris Davis this year.
The corollary to this rule (or at least strong guideline) is that once a player is shown to be a steroids cheat, if he has a sudden, mysterious increase in production, he is not entitled to any presumption of innocence at all. Not now, not ever. If he did it once before, isn’t there at least a good chance he’d do it again, particularly if it’s his only realistic chance to regain past stardom and the multi-million dollar annual salaries that come with it?
For the record, Bartolo Colon has reportedly earned $5.9 million over the last three season since successfully coming back with the Yankees, and he’ll likely command an eight-figure salary in 2014, if his second half of 2013 is anything at all like his first half.
Do I know whether Bartolo Colon is using PEDs this season? Of course not. I don’t have any evidence other than the facts I’ve set forth above. However, Bartolo Colon is having a season that, given his age and medical history, rivals Barry Bonds‘ 2001 through 2004, when at age 36 Bonds suddenly started hitting like Babe Ruth‘s older brother. We know now with reasonable certainty that Bonds in those years was juicing like a South Texas grapefruit.
Do I strongly suspect that Bartolo Colon’s 2013 performance is improperly enhanced? What do you think?