QUEENS — If it was up to Bartolo Colon’s family, he would have retired as a member of the Cleveland Guardians — the organization he broke into the majors with in 1997 and spent six years with.
But ultimately, it was up to Colon, and he wanted to officially retire with the organization whose fans he had a special bond with.
“This was the fan base that accepted me the most and supported me the most,” Colon said on Sunday during his retirement press conference at Citi Field. “So that’s why I felt really comfortable [retiring here].”
Colon pitched 21 seasons in the major leagues with 11 different franchises, accruing four career All-Star appearances and winning the 2005 American League Cy Young Award with the Los Angeles Angels.
But it was a three-year stint with the Mets that meant the most to Colon, who became one of the most beloved figures in Queens in recent memory, adopting the nickname “Big Sexy” which was given to him by former Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard.
“When I would go up to home plate and I would hit, sometimes my helmet would fall off [when I swung],” Colon began. “So I told the [clubhouse attendant] to make it a little bigger, just because I knew that the fans would get a good reaction out of it. That’s what made them so special. It’s not that they’re the most important to me, but they were the ones that gave me a good amount of happiness.”
The Dominican native pitched with the Mets from 2014-2016, going 44-34 with a 3.90 ERA in 98 games, 95 starts, reinventing himself from a power pitcher who regularly flirted with 100 mph to a finesse pitcher.
“I have to give credit to Greg Maddux, who gave me some advice in 1996 and told me that I should be throwing two-seamers more often,” Colon said. “At the time, I didn’t like throwing two-seamers… I started implementing a little more as I grew as a pitcher and I started to implement the command over the velocity, so I think that’s what ended up helping me when I was here.”
Following the 2015 regular season where he went 14-13 with a 4.16 ERA, Colon worked out of the bullpen during the Mets’ run to the National League pennant, allowing just two earned runs with seven strikeouts in 8.2 innings pitched.
“In the major leagues, when you’re career is about numbers, he put the team first,” his former manager, Terry Collins, said. “This guy was more than just a good pitcher and a good athlete. He was a true professional.’
While he provided consistent innings out of a rotation that was put in flux by injuries — including an All-Star selection in 2016 — he might be best known for belting one of the more famous home runs of the last decade on May 7, 2016 in San Diego off James Shields when he connected for his first career round-tripper. He became the oldest player (42 years, 349 days) to hit his first major league home run.
“The only thing that I could think about when I was rounding the bases was that those bases were getting further and further away,” Colon joked. “It felt like it was a dream.”
In 565 career games, Colon went 247-188 with a 4.12 ERA. Those 247 wins rank 31st in Major League Baseball since the beginning of the live-ball era (1920). He also holds the record for the most wins by a Dominican-born pitcher.