Bartolo Colon

Bartolo Colon’s success is really bothering some people

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Bartolo Colon has pitched magnificently this season. He leads the AL in wins, is sporting a 2.89 ERA and is pounding the strike zone like crazy, allowing only one walk per every nine innings pitched. This, apparently, is something baseball should be embarrassed by. Why? Because he tested positive for synthetic testosterone last year  Paul Gackle of the San Francisco Examiner:

If the deadline for submitting the All-Star Game rosters were today, Colon should be a shoe-in to make the American League pitching staff, which would be colossal embarrassment for the commissioner’s office. It would suggest one of two things: PEDs don’t, in fact, enhance athletic performances, so what’s the big deal? Or he’s still cheating and he’s beating the system.

But let’s be clear here. Gackle is not seriously entertaining the former option:

Baseball wants us to believe that it’s capable of tidying up the sport, putting an end to the guessing game over who is cheating and who is clean. It caught Colon, Melky Cabrera and another 18 players connected to a Miami-area clinic, and those players reportedly could be suspended in the next few weeks. Colon’s season is, however, raising more doubt over whether testing can keep pace with the evolution of PEDs.

Let’s be clear, I’m not accusing Colon of cheating. He could be another rubber arm, like Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson, as far as I’m concerned. But I will say that his performance is evidence that 50-game suspensions won’t cut it if baseball really wants to crack down on PED users.

No, he is accusing Colon of cheating. By definition he is, for the direct conclusion he draws from Colon’s success this year is that baseball’s drug testing doesn’t work and that Colon’s success is an embarrassment and then spends time comparing Colon to Pete Rose and the game-throwers of the Chicago Black Sox and proposes suspending players for two years for PEDs.

Look, I have no idea what Bartolo Colon is doing to be successful in 2013. But It’s not like he wasn’t a top-flight pitcher for many, many years before shoulder problems derailed him. A late-career bump — especially one that isn’t accompanied by some massive increase in velocity and an uptick in strikeout rates — is not anything historically unprecedented. The notion that he’s back on banned substances and eluding drug testing is not impossible, but it is an argument that requires more evidence than other possible explanations such as “good pitcher has good season” or “synthetic testosterone is not some magic super power-bestowing substance,” or “throwing pitches in the strike zone and relying on your defense is good strategy.”

Gackle has no interest in marshaling any such evidence, however. He, like so many others, is merely interested in turning a somewhat complex matter of science and biology, turning it into a matter of good and evil and thus taking the laziest possible approach in order to get his column inches in.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.