Bartolo Colon’s epic and historic first career home run last Saturday night wouldn’t have elicited such unbridled joy if not for the almost joke-like character of the 42-year-old’s previous career as a hitter.
Colon’s at-bats had been one of the Internet’s funniest bits. Colon swings and misses and his helmet falls off. The fact that Colon has such a roly-poly body has only added to the merriment. That, plus he has truly become a beloved character during his time with the Mets and is willing to laugh at himself.
But Colon’s desire to make himself a better hitter and bunter is no joke. Behind the layers of visual hilarity has been a player who realized he had to take that part of his job more seriously if he was going to help his team. It’s something the Mets preach to all of their pitchers: Don’t be an automatic out.
Noah Syndergaard, who homered twice on Wednesday against the Dodgers, is further proof that the pitchers are trying to practice what is preached.
Manager Terry Collins, who was thrilled beyond belief last Saturday, has at times shown irritation with the comedic nature of Colon’s at-bats. Winning and losing is no laughing matter to Collins.
According to assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler, Mets pitchers hit three out of every five days. Colon does not take batting practice on the day he pitches and the day after. When he does, he takes about 30-40 swings.
“Since he came over [to the Mets], one of his goals was to get better,” Roessler said. “He worked at it. One of his goals from this spring training on was to hit a home run. He takes pride in his hitting. He really wants to get better.”
Last season, in a discussion about the possibility of bringing the designated hitter to the NL, commissioner Rob Manfred cited Colon’s at-bats as a reason not to.
“It’s been a great source of entertainment for me,” Manfred said.
But Collins told The Wall Street Journal last June: “Nobody likes to be embarrassed at any level, and he knows people are laughing at him when he hits. I think he took it a little personally.”
Colon, who turns 43 on May 24, became the oldest major-leaguer to hit his first home run when he went deep off James Shields of the Padres for a two-run shot in the second inning at PETCO Park in San Diego.
It was the 247th plate appearance of Colon’s 19-year big-league career. He has only spent four of them in the National League: part of 2002 with the Montreal Expos and the last three with the Mets. Fifty-eight percent of Colon’s plate appearances have come since 2014.
His first hit came in the second year of interleague play in 1998, when Colon was a member of the Indians. His first extra-base hit (a double) came in 2014.
Colon has yet to hit a triple or attempt a stolen base.
Overall, Colon has 21 hits in 229 at-bats (. 092) with 122 strikeouts. Before 2014, the most plate appearances he had in a season was the 49 he had in 2002 with Montreal and Cleveland.
The previous oldest player to hit his first home run was Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, who was 40 when he homered off Milwaukee lefthander Doug Davis at Miller Park in 2003. Johnson, one of the most feared lefthanded pitchers in baseball history, was a righthanded hitter.
Colon has a ways to go to catch Wes Ferrell for the most home runs by a pitcher in baseball history. Ferrell, who pitched for six teams, including the Yankees, from 1927-41, hit 38.
The active leaders for homers by a pitcher are Madison Bumgarner of the Giants and Yovani Gallardo of the Orioles, who each have 12.
Babe Ruth, in case you were wondering, had 14 when he was in the lineup as a pitcher. His last such homer came off Bob Kline of the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 1, 1933, when Ruth was 38. Ruth also pitched a 12-hit complete game as the Yankees won, 6-5.
Armed and dangerous
Most career home runs by Mets pitchers:
Dwight Gooden (1984-94, 730 at-bats)
Rick Aguilera (1985-99, 138 AB)
Don Cardwell (1967-69, 151 AB)
Noah Syndergaard (2015-16, 55 AB)
Walt Terrell (1982-84, 124 AB)