The Cleveland Fan on Facebook

The Cleveland Fan on Twitter
Misc General General Archive Top Cleveland Sports Figures, By the Numbers - #40
Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

ColonThis is one installment in a team effort by The Cleveland Fan, highlighting the top local sports figures by jersey number. Please weigh in with your thoughts on the "Boards". As David Letterman would say, "For entertainment purposes only; please, no wagering"

So, the lasting memory of Bartolo Colon all comes down to which part you chose to remember.  Speaking in the context of the most successful era of baseball the Cleveland Indians ever played, you may see him as the gateway, albeit a brief one, away from the stop-gap measures of free agency and toward home-grown pitching talent to compliment an insanely potent offense in the late 1990’s.  Or, you might remember him as the last piece of that great era, for his departure was certainly the beginning of the end.  Other than possibly LeBron James, no other Cleveland athlete’s departure left quite the same lasting mark that the deal that sent Colon to Quebec did over a decade ago.

At the time, we could know it as nothing more than Colon for Lee Stevens and prospects, but it the future that made us forget the 34 year-old first baseman almost as quickly as we forgot that Tim Drew, brother of JD and Stephen, was also sent to the Expos organization in Mark Shapiro’s first real deal of significance on June 27, 2002.  The careers of Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, and Grady Sizemore would later tell us that the scales probably tilted in the Tribe’s direction for the 17-game rental on the Dominican ace, but that is merely the end of Colon’s story from a Cleveland standpoint. 


ExposColon went 10-4 in his first and only go-around in the Senior Circuit, but the Expos finished 19 games out of first place in the National League East, and well short of the wild card.  He’d spend a season on the south side of Chicago, then a few in Orange County, where he was sensational for two years, even winning the 2005 American League Cy Young before the wheels came off.  After going 7-13 over the next two seasons after his Cy Young season, Colon bounced around a bit, throwing for Boston, the White Sox (again), the Yankees, and Athletics, where he has started a few games in 2013 at the age of 39.

He’s come a long way since April 4, 1997, the day he debuted for the Tribe as a 23 year-old phenom, but it wasn’t smooth sailing out of the gate for the young man who had never started a game above AA prior to the 1997 season.  He was 22-9 in 3 seasons, split between Burlington, Kinston, and Akron-Canton, but he’d leave his debut with the Tribe in Anaheim after 5 innings with a no decision in a game that the Indians would go on to lose.  In fact, though he was only dinged with the decision in two of the games, the Tribe came out on the losing end of Colon’s first four starts, all on the road. 

97He finally notched his first win at Fenway Park on June 7th, giving up 4 runs on 8 hits, including home runs off the bats of Wil Cordero and Darren Bragg, in 7 innings of work in a 9-5 victory.  There was nothing spectacular about the Colon’s rookie season at all; he ended up with a 4-7 record at the big league level and was left off the playoff roster, but spent a lot of time AAA Buffalo that year, where he went 7-1 with a 2.22 ERA in ten starts.  We didn’t have to wait long, however, to see Colon prove what he was worth.

In his first start of the 1998 season, back in Anaheim, he went the distance in an 11-0 win for the visiting Tribe.  He gave up four hits and struck out ten; no Angels player reached third base in Colon’s first real masterpiece.  It was the first of 3 double digit strikeout performance on the 1998 stat sheets, which included a 14 strikeout outing against the Blue Jays at SkyDome on May 29th.  Mike Hargrove selected him to his first and only All-Star Game as a member of the Indians, and he actually earned the “W” in the Mid-Summer Classic at Coors Field, but only after giving up a 2-run lead on a 3-run shot by Barry Bonds in the 5th Inning.  The American League bailed him out in the boxscore by getting three runs on Ugueth Urbina in the top of the next frame.

Colon finished the regular season 14-9, the first of four seasons that he’d win at least 14 for the Indians.  He gave up only 15 home runs in 204 innings of work and posted an ERA of 3.71.  He did play an integral role in the postseason, and despite the fact that the Yankees bested the Indians in the ALCS, none of that blame fell on the shoulders of Bartolo Colon.  He gave up just one run, a solo home run by Nomar Garciparra, in a No Decision against Boston in Game 3 of the Division Series; the Indians would go on to win the game 2-1, which would advance them to the League Championship Series.  In Game 3 of the series against the Yankees, he surrendered a run on two hits in the first inning, then allowed just two hits the rest of the way in 8 innings of shutout ball.  In all, he worked 14+ innings, allowing just two runs on nine hits in the 1998 postseason.

In 1999, he went 18-5 for the Tribe, with his best outing of the season coming against the Angels on August 9th.  He went the distance and gave up 7 hits in a 4-0 win over the Halos.  Though he did not make the All-Star team, Colon finished 4th in the Cy Young voting, behind Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Mariano Rivera.  It was feast or famine in the ’99 postseason.  His first start was brilliant; 8 innings pitched, 2 runs, 5 hits, and 11 strikeouts, but a No Decision in a Game 1 win for the Tribe.  Game 4 was a different story, one that ends with the Tribe dropping a potential series clinching game by a count of 23-7, with Colon exiting stage left, down 7-2 before registering an out in the home half of the 2nd inning.

2000The Indians did not make the playoffs in 2000, but Colon had another brilliant season, winning 15 and losing 8, including 6 outings where he notched double digit strikeouts, but he needed a 16th win to give the Indians a chance at their sixth straight postseason berth, but that wasn’t a sure thing at the time.  He pitched well against the hapless Twins on September 28th, but Minnesota strung together a couple of hits to score 3 in the fourth inning, and Colon left the game after 7, trailing 3-2.  Travis Fryman spared him the loss with a 9th inning home run to force extras, but the Twins got them in the tenth.  It would be the Indians 72nd and final loss of the season, as they ran the table in their final 3 contests.  Unfortunately, the Oakland A’s followed suit, earning them the American League Wild Card.

Colon’s best performance came two starts prior to that ill-fated No Decision in the Bronx, against the Yankees.  In a 2-0 win, Colon struck out 14, and was still working on a no-hitter when Luis Polonia lined a base hit in front of Kenny Lofton with one out in the eighth.  He was erased on the next pitch, one that resulted in a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of Scott Brosius.  That Polonia hit didn’t quite ruin perfection, as former Indians David Justice reached twice, by way of a walk and a Russell Branyan fielding error in left field.

In Colon’s last full season with the Tribe, the Tribe’s ace stuggled to stay win more games than he lost.  He threw over 222 innings and his ERA was up over 4 for the first time since he was a rookie.  He finished the year at 14-12, but the Indians were back in the playoffs, but they drew a juggernaut Seattle team.  The Mariners won 116 games that year, including a 5-2 mark against the Indians, which very realistically should have been 6-1.  However, if that intimidated Colon, he never showed it.  He took a loss in 9 innings of 4-hit ball, but Jamie Moyer and the Mariners bullpen was slightly better in a 2-1 Seattle victory on August 3rd. 

Come playoff time, Charlie Manuel gave him the ball in Game 1, and he didn’t give it up until the 9th inning, when closer Bob Wickman kept the Lou Piniella’s squad off the scoreboard to preserve a 5-0 shutout.  Colon struck out 10 and walked 3, while giving up six hits.  He looked good for six innings in Game 4 of that series, an elimination game for the kings of the regular season, but began to dig his own grave while protecting a 1-0 lead in the top of the 7th inning at Jacobs Field.  He surrendered a Stan Javier single and a couple of walks to load the bases with nobody out, and left the game after  throwing his 101st pitch, down 3-1.  The Mariners would go on to win 6-2, and then won Game 5 at Safeco to advance.  It was the last time Colon would ever pitch for the Indians in the month of October.

OaklandOn a team that could be considered mediocre, at best, Colon was as good as he’d ever been in a Tribe uniform in 2002.  The Indians were 34-39 when Charlie Manuel gave his #1 the starting nod for the last time at Stade Olympique on June 22nd.  Despite getting to Bob Wickman for a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Frank Robinson’s Expos were unable to keep Bartolo Colon from earning his 10th win of the year, lifting his record to 10-4 after 16 starts for the Tribe in a go-nowhere season.  If you can’t beat ‘em, join’em, I suppose.  That brings us back to Bartolo Colon for Lee Stevens and prospects on June 27th, nine years and one day after Colon signed as an amateur free agent with the club in 1993.

Honorable Mention

Interestingly enough, no Cleveland Indians has ever pitched in a World Series wearing the #40.  Bud Black wore the number during the 1995 season, appearing in 11 games in his second tour with the Tribe, but like Colon in ’97, he was not on the playoff roster.  Black also appeared in 78 games for the Tribe from June of 1988 until September of 1990; the Indians sent Pat Tabler to Kansas City to acquire the current San Diego Padres manager in ’88 and received Steve Cummings and Alex Sanchez when they sent him and Mauro Gozzo to Toronto in ’90.  Tom Mastny is the last to appear in a post-season game for the Tribe with #40 on his back, and he registered a win in Game 2 of the 2007 ALCS, working a perfect 10th inning before the Indians put up a 7-spot in the top of the 11th.

HillisA selective memory will help Browns fans appreciate Peyton Hillis more than those who choose to recall the big picture of Hillis’s time in Cleveland.  Admittedly, he will likely be more remembered for being voted to the cover of “Madden ‘12” than for his accomplishments on the field in 2010.  He ran for 1,177 yards and scored 11 rushing touchdowns, to go with his 61 receptions for 477 yards and two receiving scores in that breakout season.  After the Madden cover, in-season contract negotiations may or may not have led to a mysterious scratch for a case of strep throat that he may or may not have had.  Whatever the case with a wedding that may or may not have happened secretly or a position with the CIA that he may or may not have lobbied for, he wore out his welcome in Cleveland quickly and was gone after the 2011 season.

Howard “Hopalong” Cassady wore #40 for the Browns in 1962, but would be better known in the state of Ohio as the 1955 Heisman Trophy winner for his accomplishments at Ohio State.  He scored 37 touchdowns as a Buckeye, and legend has it that no one ever completed a pass on him as a defensive back on Woody Hayes defense.  He also played baseball for the scarlet and gray, and after his football playing days were over, the Columbus native returned to Ohio’s capital and worked with Columbus Clippers, then a New York Yankees minor-league affiliate.


The TCF Forums