You’re fourteen years old, you love the Yankees and for the previous three years you’ve watched them degrade from perennial World Series participants to AL cellar dwellers. All your favorite pinstriper’s have grown old instantly together and you’re desperate for some good news. Is Bobby Murcer the next Mickey Mantle? Will Jerry Kenney make us forget about Clete Boyer.? Is Horace Clarke better than Bobby Richardson? You keep watching and listening to game after game and scouring the box scores to get the answer to these questions and even though it quickly became obvious that this next generation of Yankees were simply pale imitations of the previous ones, you didn’t give up hope.
It was this never-give-up-hope attitude that helps me clearly remember when today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant made his debut in the Bronx. It was a Sunday afternoon game at the Stadium in late May of 1968 and I can almost hear Scooter make the first-ever big league introduction of this native Puerto Rican. It probably went something like this; “and batting eighth and doing the catching is, holy cow Messer, this kid’s name is Ellie Rodriguez and he’s doing the catching. If he’s anything like the last Ellie (Elston Howard) who caught for the Yankees, we may have something special here.”
But alas, Ellie Rodriguez was no Ellie Howard. He went 0-3 in his Yankee debut that afternoon and was hitting just .167 by mid-June, when the Yankees sent him back to their Syracuse Chiefs farm team. He’d get called back up a couple of times that year but he did not do much better, finishing his nine-game debut season with a .209 batting average. New York had this other young catcher named Munson playing for Binghamton that same season, who was impressing everyone in the organization, so they left Ellie II unprotected in the AL expansion draft. The Kansas City Royals made him their 13th pick.
It turned out to be a big break for Rodriguez because he became the Royals’ starting catcher in 1969 and made the AL All Star team. Three seasons later he repeated that feat as the Brewers starting catcher. The Brewers traded him to the Angels following the ’73 season and he caught 137 games for California in 1974, a career high. He would end up spending nine years in all as a big league catcher, and then he played four more seasons in Mexico. Lifetime he hit .245 and threw out 41% of the runners attempting to steal against him. He may not have been the next Ellie Howard but he did just fine.
Rodriguez shares his May 24th birthday with this veteran pitcher who played an important role in the Yankees’ 2011 starting rotation.
|MIL (3 yrs)||325||1152||964||89||246||32||4||3||95||6||134||122||.255||.357||.306||.663|
|KCR (2 yrs)||175||575||498||52||115||18||2||3||35||5||58||61||.231||.323||.293||.617|
|CAL (2 yrs)||230||778||621||68||153||26||0||10||63||6||118||93||.246||.376||.337||.712|
|LAD (1 yr)||36||90||66||10||14||0||0||0||9||0||19||12||.212||.400||.212||.612|
|NYY (1 yr)||9||27||24||1||5||0||0||0||1||0||3||3||.208||.296||.208||.505|
I remember the first and only time I saw Bartolo Colon pitch live. It was a late season night game in 2000 at Yankee Stadium. The only Yankee hit he allowed that evening was an eighth inning single by Luis Polonia who was then immediately erased on a double play ground ball. I know he had at least a dozen strikeouts that night as he bested Roger Clemens and threw a complete game shutout. When I walked into Yankee Stadium that evening, I was looking forward to watching one of the best pitchers in baseball perform. As I left that evening, I realized I had just witnessed two.
Colon came up with the Indians in 1997 and spent his first five-plus seasons pitching for Cleveland. Just before the trading deadline of the 2002 season, the Indians decided to trade the Dominican right-hander to Montreal for four prospects including Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore. His record was 10-4 before the trade and he went 10-4 after it, giving Colon his first 20-victory season in the big leagues. Knowing that Colon would be a free agent following the 2003 season and realizing they could never sign him, Montreal traded him to the White Sox. He pitched one year in the Windy City became a free agent and signed a four-year, $50 million deal to pitch for the Angels. He looked like a bargain after the first two seasons of that contract during which he won 39 games including his second 20-victory season and the AL Cy Young Award in 2005. But he tore his rotator cuff pitching against the Yankees in the 2005 playoffs and he spent the next five years recovering from that injury and trying to regain his form.
In January of 2011, the Yankees signed him and told him he could compete for the fourth and fifth spots in the Yankee rotation. He won neither but pitched well enough in spring training to start the year as New York’s long reliever. When Phil Hughes fell apart last April, Colon took his spot in the rotation and pitched very well. By July 2 of last year his record was 6-3 and his ERA just 2.88. He would fade down the stretch and not get re-signed by the Yankees after the 2011 postseason, but I for one will always be grateful for Bartolo Colon’s contribution to that year’s Yankee team.
Update: The above post was originally written in 2011. Since that time, Colon has signed two consecutive one-year contracts to pitch for the Oakland A’s. Last year, he was helping Manager Bob Melvin’s team become the AL West’s surprising division-winner, when in late-August of 2012, he was suspended by Major League Baseball for the use of the MLB-banned substance, testosterone. His record was 10-9 at the time of that suspension. Colon admitted he used the stuff, apologized and then signed with Oakland to pitch for them again in 2013.
It seems that as far as the use of performance enhancing drugs by active MLB players is concerned, the best response for continuing your career unabated after a positive test occurs is to admit your guilt, apologize and serve your suspension. If you attempt to deny it, even for a week or so, as the Giants’ Melky Cabrera did last year when he was having an MVP-type season for the Giants, you’ll be shunned by your team and its fans and forced to find employment elsewhere (Unless of course you hire Ryan Braun’s legal team to get the test results thrown out.)
Colon’s record thus far in 2013 is 4-2. He turns 40-years-old today.
He shares his May 24th birthday with this former Yankee catcher named “Ellie.” No not that “Ellie.”
|CLE (6 yrs)||75||45||.625||3.92||162||160||0||15||6||0||1029.2||984||483||448||109||419||873||1.363|
|LAA (4 yrs)||46||33||.582||4.66||96||95||0||3||1||0||586.2||633||328||304||90||154||422||1.341|
|OAK (2 yrs)||14||11||.560||3.66||33||33||0||1||1||0||206.2||217||88||84||24||27||121||1.181|
|CHW (2 yrs)||18||19||.486||3.93||46||46||0||9||0||0||304.1||292||149||133||43||88||211||1.249|
|BOS (1 yr)||4||2||.667||3.92||7||7||0||0||0||0||39.0||44||23||17||5||10||27||1.385|
|MON (1 yr)||10||4||.714||3.31||17||17||0||4||1||0||117.0||115||48||43||9||39||74||1.316|
|NYY (1 yr)||8||10||.444||4.00||29||26||0||1||1||0||164.1||172||85||73||21||40||135||1.290|