Wassell: Keep baseball weird — MLB is missing the colorful stars it needs
I’m an old man who enjoys weird things. Bartolo Colon is old and his success is definitely weird. So I guess I’m a Bartolo Colon fan.
But is it a good thing when a guy like that is one of baseball’s most well-known stars? Aging, out-of-shape players aren’t generally the ones we look to for great athletic achievements, and yet there we were on Wednesday, watching him dominate a pretty good Mariners lineup.
Here’s random list of baseball’s best, most famous players.
• Shohei Ohtani
• Mike Trout
• Aaron Judge
• Giancarlo Stanton
• Bryce Harper
• Justin Verlander
• Jose Altuve
• Manny Machado
• Corey Kluber
• Max Scherzer
• Clayton Kershaw
• Bartolo Colon
Colon is nowhere close to being considered one of the greats in the game today, and yet as we start to name the guys whose names are most recognizable, you can’t ignore him. A (nearly) 45-year old overweight pitcher who hits home runs on occasion is going to make news. When he comes to your town and holds down nine guys half his age, it’s tough to look away.
Not only does Colon belong on that list above, he’s probably more famous than some of the players that are obviously better. Is this an indictment of baseball’s marketing issues? Clearly, the sport is having a difficult time reaching young fans. When a guy like Colon is one of the game’s most popular players, it means that there just aren’t enough stars.
What does it say about Major League Baseball that one of its biggest attractions is a pitcher that would be lucky finish the season with an ERA under 4.00? Mike Trout and Corey Kluber are two of the best players in the sport and yet if they knocked on my door right now, I’d have to think for a minute about who they were. You can bet everything you own that if Bartolo Colon paid me a visit, I’d not only know who he was, but I’d invite him in immediately!
Still, I can’t decide if this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the positive side, Colon’s quirkiness fits right in with the great lore of baseball’s folk heroes. Names like Turk Wendell, Bill Lee, Julio Franco, Dock Ellis, Jose Lima, the entire 1993 Phillies pennant-winning roster – they all make me smile for their own unique reasons. Do a little research on each and I guarantee you at least a few laughs. Their unconventionality widened baseball’s entertainment value and were the reason that I and many fans (perhaps unconsciously) fell in love with the game. “Weird” works in baseball.
I suppose in a perfect world, I’d prefer baseball to have a little variety – some eccentric players and some amazingly skilled ones. Right now though, there’s a shortage of both. The NBA has so much from each side that actually winning games in that league has become secondary in terms of why people watch. Does anyone actually care who wins the NBA Finals? The buzz is about the players – who they are, what they say, and then maybe how they played.
Think about this for a second: J.R. Smith has a wider national appeal than Manny Machado. Machado is a Top 20 player in his sport and a perennial All-Star. My guess is that the average sports fan knows zero about him. But because of Smith’s proximity to LeBron James and his refusal to keep his shirt on, even President Obama couldn’t help but single him out a few years back.
So what’s the moral of the story here? That we need more below-average, obese guys who pitch into their mid-40s?