The early favorite for the “Comeback Player of the Year” has to be Bartolo Colon, hands down. This 37 year old Dominican, burst on the scene for the Cleveland Indians in 1997 and after a fairly successful run, ended up injured, ineffective and bouncing around several major league teams until he was out of baseball entirely by the middle of the 2009 season. Now, given his girth, he truly is “the round mound on the rebound!”
In a story that Disney wishes it could trademark, he became the legendary Spanish Explorer Ponce de Leon, looking for an elixir, a fountain of youth that would help him find his way back. What he discovered was a doctor with a controversial treatment involving a transplant of stem cells and possible use of HGH, which was injected several times into his shoulder. The miracle then blossomed as Colon played in the Puerto Rico Winter League, got an invite to Spring Training with the NY Yankees and after an impressive performance as a bullpen guy, was moved into the starting rotation and has responded with a number of excellent performances including a complete game shutout a week or so ago.
So this journey has raised several questions which beg to be answered. The first batch of questions comes from MLB itself as they look at the legality of this controversial treatment. Although MLB has rules in place related to the use of steroids, there is nothing in the Basic Agreement regarding stem cells or HGH treatment. Plus Colon was not under any contract, major league or minor league when he got this treatment, so was he even bound by MLB rules? Would anyone be restricted by the MLB Basic Agreement if he is out of the sport? Let’s take any player, say injured while under control who then retires. What would prevent him from using any type of treatment, steroids included and then after healing, getting back into the sport by signing a contract again. A loophole of ginormous proportions has been found here.
A second issue is related to this treatment option overall. If it is or becomes an accepted medical procedure to heal damaged muscle, how can baseball ban it anyway? Last year there was some controversy about some NFL players getting a oxygenated blood treatment to speed up healing with some positive results. What if this is the same type thing. Then, the procedure as an ongoing revitalization treatment comes into question. If this procedure that Colon got is found to be effective in repairing muscle, would it be tried when say the muscle is not as damaged but has some issues? Throwing a baseball is an unnatural exercise and many experts say that ALL pitchers do some damage in their shoulders and forearms and elbows. What if this treatment could repair that damage and help to extend careers. Can you imagine the hybrid we might have, the grizzled MLB veteran pitcher who has been around the block a number of times with the experience to match, suddenly getting the arm of a 25 year old again. Teams could field a staff of Roy Halladay or Greg Maddux types with Stephen Strasburg fastballs.
Whenever I get into this type of discussion with my friend Maqz, he always falls back on baseball the old way argument. He is a bit of a traditionalist in regards to his baseball. He likes the human element, likes the old uniforms with the high traditional stirrups, you get the idea. But what I say to him and others like him is that I guess this means we should go back to using leaches in treating injuries and perhaps a medicine doctor or shaman chanting to make the evil spirits go away while clutching an eagle feather or eye of newt. Should we just rub some spit and dirt into sore muscles and move on? Baseball, like the other professional sports, is employing highly tuned, athletic, powerful individuals who are paid amazingly high amounts of money, an investment. Thus the complicated medical treatments are becoming more commonplace more highly specialized to protect the investment. Training regiments are different than 25 years ago, medical treatments, more complex and complicated – tendon transplants and MRI’s for muscle soreness and cramps and hamstring strains. Heck I know someone who had a double hip replacement with titanium ball and sockets. Someone like Mickey Mantle could have had 5 Triple Crown Years if we had had the knee surgery available to him back in the late 1950’s that we have now. How many of the pitchers of yesteryear with their sore elbow or tired shoulder could have had their careers extended with “Tommy John” surgery or rotator cuff repair. How many current players might have their career extended with a “Colon Cocktail”.
Yea, I know, we have to come up with a better name for it than that. A Bartolo Bump Up perhaps?