Until Big Sexy came along, the best Met home run ever, the one that raised the tallest goosebumps, occurred a few weeks before yet another season ended with yet another demoralizing finish out of the playoffs: Mike Piazza’s game-winner—against the odious Atlanta Braves!—to win the first post-9/11 baseball game in New York City, nine days later on September 20. It was a moment of national catharsis, bigger than the Mets, bigger than baseball, so exhilarating that even a scattered few Yankee fans stood and applauded.
I don’t care if this is blasphemy: Big Sexy’s big blast on that irrelevant day in San Diego was even bigger.
Before every start during his career in New York, Big Sexy had a tradition with Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen that snow-balled into a superstition: they played hide-and-seek in the clubhouse. “He’d come out of the locker room,” according to Warthen, “and I’d be hiding. I’d have a tarp over me; I’d hide behind walls. I was in garbage cans, linen baskets. And he would always find me, and he would give off this belly laugh. Sometimes I’d jump out at him from inside a closet.”
Warthen tells this story in Big Sexy’s 2020 memoir, which Colón had announced to the world during the previous winter, when he was 48 years old and a year into involuntary retirement from MLB. The book was to be called Big Sexy, and Colón broke the news by posting an Instagram video of Big Sexy on his treadmill reading an advance copy of Big Sexy. He’d pitched in the big leagues for 21 years, and he was hoping someone would give him a shot at 22, and he was particularly hoping it would be the Mets. But if not, he had a back-up plan: Big Sexy, by Big Sexy.
The book is delightful. Charming illustrations of his pet donkey from childhood, Pancho, and the Dominican coffee cans he and his pals used for bases. Favorite Big Sexy stories shared by famous ex-teammates. Fun with fonts. It’s as bright and buoyant as Big Sexy himself. The book’s most poignant moment is his recollection of the 2012 phone call he had to make to his father to tell him he’d been suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs, which forced him to sit out a playoff trip with the Oakland A’s. “My father was so disappointed in me that when I called him and told him what I’d done, he was completely speechless,” Colón writes. “I learned later from my sisters, who were with him during the call, that after he hung up with me, he started weeping.” The next season, following his reinstatement, he went 18-6 with a 2.65 earned run average and made his first All Star trip in nearly a decade.
And then that off-season he signed with the Mets. Which meant he was consenting to hit. He admits in Big Sexy that this gave him considerable pause. Fortunately, the opposing pitcher for one of his first starts in Queens, where his fear of humiliation was the most acute, was Ervin Santana, his former Angels teammate and fellow Dominican. “A day earlier I was talking to him out on the field,” Colón writes, “and I told him, ‘When it’s your turn to hit tomorrow, I will throw you all fastballs, but you have to do the same for me.’” “OK,” he claims Santana replied. “No problem.”
His first at-bat was a farce before he faced a pitch. “I wasn’t even sure where the best place for me to stand in the batter’s box was,” Colón writes. As they’d agreed, Santana started him out with a fastball, and Colón, knowing it was coming, swung very hard, so hard that his batting helmet popped halfway off his head. Mets fans squealed with delight. Strike one. Then Santana broke their pact. In his defense, the Mets had a runner on second base;he was professionally obliged to be merciless. His next pitch was a slider, and Big Sexy swung mightily again and “this time,” he wrote, “the helmet came completely off my head, hopping around on the dirt in front of home plate.” Even he started laughing—“not because of the helmet but because Ervin went back on his promise.” Santana finished off his fellow countryman with another slider, and the crowd squealed again.