On Wednesday night, Bartolo Colon returned from an oblique injury against a bad San Diego Padres lineup and was again terrible, allowing six runs in four innings. In his previous start before three weeks on the DL, he allowed eight runs in 3⅔ innings. In the start before that, it was nine runs in 2⅓ and before that seven runs in five innings. You get the idea.
The Atlanta Braves have finally seen enough, designating the 44-year-old pitcher for assignment on Thursday. Given how poorly Colon has pitched -- he's 2-8 with a 8.14 ERA and .338 average allowed -- this might be the end of the line for him after 20 seasons in the majors. It seems unlikely any team would pick him up, although given the current state of pitching, I guess you never know. Colon's career appeared to be over once before, after he made just 47 starts over a four-year period, then missed the entire 2010 season. But he recovered to become a two-time All-Star after turning 40.
Colon had a nice season with the Mets in 2016 -- 15 wins, 3.43 ERA, an All-Star trip, 33 starts. He had pitched at least 190 innings four seasons in a row, so it was understandable why the Braves, looking for some innings to fill a rotation that was still waiting on the development of some of its minor leaguers, signed him as a free agent. Of course, given his age and declining fastball velocity, it was also readily apparent that his demise would probably be quick and painful when it did arrive, and that's what happened.
After going 31-25 the final two months of 2016, the Braves' front office sort of thought of themselves as playoff contenders heading into the season -- or at least sold their fans on that idea, which is why they signed Colon and R.A. Dickey. The thing about signing those two, however, was that if you really believed in making a playoff run, why did you think two mediocre old guys would put you over the top? There was no way those two would be good enough to turn a crappy rotation into a good one.
Anyway, if this it for Colon, there are not many players who can match his achievements. He's 62nd on the all-time wins list with 235. Since 1980, only eight pitchers have won more games. He's won more games than Pedro Martinez or John Smoltz or Curt Schilling or Roy Halladay, although that doesn't mean he was better than those guys. He arrived on the scene as a flame-throwing kid with the Indians -- with a slightly different build than his current everyman physique. Here he is in 1998 completing his first major league shutout:
He was one of the hardest throwers in the game. In his comeback from injuries in his 40s, he became unique in that he threw the highest percentage of fastballs of any starter in the game, even as his average velocity dipped into the upper 80s. He could manipulate the movement, speed and location just enough from pitch to pitch to remain successful. There was nobody like him.
Of course, he became a cult hero as he kept defying the odds and kept growing larger and larger. A suspension for PEDs, a controversial elbow surgery and even the emergence of a secret second family didn't dim his legend. As ESPN writer Kevin Van Valkenburg put it, Colon became "something of a national treasure, our round mound of mirth."
He smiled as he rounded the bases, soaking in the moment. He's probably not smiling today, but it was one heck of an interesting career.