In an era where racism, sexism and other “-isms” are rightfully denounced, there are still two insults that society somehow deems acceptable (and perhaps even fashionable): degrading someone for their weight or their age.
Even if the insults come in the form of jokes, they can be damaging — not the haymaker of a knockout punch but a constant stream of body blows.
Those in the public spotlight — particularly athletes, who depend on both physical gifts and the duration of their abilities — are acutely judged in these ways. And it is fair to say in the Venn diagram of weight and age questions, new Twins pitcher Bartolo Colon is in the overlapping area of the two circles.
If Colon seems to be in on the jokes, one can guess that part of it is sincere self-deprecation … but perhaps a greater part of it is rooted in the resigned knowledge of how exhausting and impossible it would be to not play along.
Colon is 44 years old, is listed at 280 pounds, and is still pitching. When the Twins signed him recently, the move was largely regarded as nothing more than desperation — a “why not?” Hail Mary after so many other starting candidates had failed for a team hanging on the edges of surprising contention.
When he started Tuesday against the Yankees and pitched four effective innings, the general fan consensus seemed to be that we were witnessing some sort of miracle.
When he was hit hard in the fifth — something that can happen to anyone against the Yankees, who have one of the best offenses in the majors — and ultimately took the loss, nobody was surprised. The consensus: Colon is over the hill and overweight. What did the Twins expect?
I don’t know. It just seems strange to me to judge a pitcher for one (really) bad half a season instead of four (quite) good ones that preceded it, all of which came when Colon was already deemed too old to be any good any more.
He turned 40 early in the 2013 season. From 2013-16, Colon won 62 games (15.5 per season) with a 3.59 ERA and made two All-Star teams. He got people out the same way he tries to get them out now: pinpoint location, late movement and solid defense behind him.
If the Twins had signed a pitcher a decade younger and 60 pounds lighter than Colon with those credentials, people would be gushing about the move as one that could put them over the top.
And yes, I get it: At some point, time catches up to all of us. Athletes can go from good to terrible with only subtle changes. For pitchers like Colon, that can mean your command is off just a little or you’re not quite getting the movement you used to get. Suddenly what used to be outs become loud doubles.
But Colon deserves an extended chance to see if he still has some magic left. He’s not only better than every in-house alternative, he’s proven that his age and weight are not related to his effectiveness.
That’s no joke.