On Colby Lewis, and His Place In Rangers History
“Colby Lewis, starting pitcher.
A man barely baseball alive.
Gentleman, we can rebuild him.
We have the technology.
We have the capability to build the world’s first bionic baseball player.
Colby Lewis will be that man.
Better than he was before.
Bigger, stronger, faster.”
-Jon Daniels, 2013. Maybe. Probably. Hopefully.
Rangers folklore isn’t short for heroes. Nolan Ryan, Pudge Rodriguez, Rougned Odor, Rusty Greer, and others dot the landscape of “Do you remember that time/that year…” conversations had by fans in Ranger Red. Memories and stories of acts and happenings like those elevate baseball from grown men in pajamas hitting small balls with big sticks to America’s history rich pastime.
Without discrediting all those men’s accomplishments, Texas’ own Six Million Dollar Man outranks them all.
January 18th, 2016. That’s when Colby and the Rangers agreed on the deal to bring back the 36-year-old righty for another reason. Some met the announcement with skepticism(myself included), while the general consensus was triumph.
Shame on all us of little faith.
Tuesday’s outing against the Indians gave Colby five wins matched against zero losses with a 3.09 ERA. Going into the start Colby accumulated 0.7 WAR on the season, more than enough to cover his salary this year. Whatever Texas gets going forward is a bonus.
As impressive as that is, what’s more impressive is how we got here.
Step into my time machine.
First stop 2012.
Colby starts 16 games, the last on July 18th versus Oakland. He goes five innings giving up a single run. Texas would lose that day 4-3. If you’re curious, Michael Kirkman was the losing pitcher that day at the Doodoo Coliseum.
Shortly after, Texas gets the news that Colby tore the flexor tendon in his pitching arm. Surgery followed, ending Lewis’ 2012.
Fast forward to 2013.
Expecting Colbra back post All-Star Break, worse news comes when he’s shut down during rehab with bone spurs in his hip that require additional surgery ending his 2013 campaign before it begins.
As if that wasn’t enough, Colby’s hips would betray him once more to the tune of needing hip resurfacing surgery. The procedure is a success, but the prognosis is more unclear than unhappy. No baseball player has played again after having it. To resume his MLB resurgence, Lewis needed to overcome the odds.
April 14th, 2014.
Texas played Seattle to a 7-1 loss at Globe Life Park.
Colby Lewis started that game. He pitched five and a third innings.
He didn’t look great. Who cares?
Nobody wins them all anyway.
Since that historic day, Colby has made 71 starts accumulating 439 innings, with a little over 200 of those coming last season. In those innings, he racked up 2.6 WAR which made the $4 million Texas paid him look paltry in comparison to his production.
I like numbers. They give you tangible, real ways to show how good or not a player was. In this age where there are more players and money than ever, those tools are valuable in the right hands. Teams have crafted World Series winners with them.
With all due respect to those numbers, they don’t do a damn bit of justice to the legacy of Colby Lewis.
That’s OK though.
Colby is not someone who baseball addicts will go back and watch strikeout compilations of on Youtube. He’s not going to be remembered for a blistering fastball, devastating changeup, or even his slider which at times can cause havoc for opposing batters.
There won’t be Twitter feeds spamming posts about the statistical anomalies of his career, with eye-popping whiff rates or dominant ground ball rates. Even in his prime, Colby didn’t miss a lot of bats.
No, the story of Colby Lewis will be told by people who recall it by memory, not by record book.
They’ll be the ones telling us about his two complete games in August 2014 during what was otherwise a season devoid of hope or happiness. 222 pitches, 18 innings, 14 strikeouts, only four runs crossing the plate.
They’ll remember September 11th, 2015. It was another complete game, but for seven innings Colby flirted with pitching’s ultimate prize. If not for Danny Valencia, who joins the Marwin Gonzalez Club Of Players Ranger Fans Will Never Forget Despite Being Average (MGCOPRFWNFDBA for short), the legend of Colby Lewis has an ecstatic capstone shared only by an elite handful.
Then of course, there’s Friday, October 15th 2010.
Three years before Colby’s body began to betray him, he stewarded the best moment in franchise history. He commanded the mound for eight innings against the hated Yankees, ceding way only for Neftali Feliz in the ninth. You know what happened then, but there’s never a bad time to watch it again.
These moments and more define the legend of Texas’ Six Million Dollar Man. It’s why when you see him post six scoreless innings on the road, it means more than if Martin Perez or AJ Griffin does it. When he starts 30 games and outperforms his salary, it’s more satisfying than when someone like Nomar Mazara bursts onto the scene looking like the second coming of prime Bobby Abreu.
It’s people like Colby Lewis that make baseball great. In a game evolving into one based on cold hard numbers, Lewis and players like him inject color and character. They’re the heroes of stories that’ll be passed down by Rangers fans for generations. They breathe life and make a team more than just a ballpark, a name, and a brand.
They give it meaning. They give it emotion. They give it legacy.
Even among those that line the annals of Ranger history, Lewis stands out. He didn’t punch a player, he socked medical science and reasonable expectations in the face. When it hit the ground, he threw elbows until he alone was declared the victor. He of all people might define best what Jeff Banister means when he says #NeverEverQuit
Yes, his fastball velocity is down. Yes, he still allows more home runs than you’d like.
None of that matters, though, because Colby Lewis is a baseball survivor.
He’s been rebuilt by technology and made the most of it. He’s become a hero to a nation of fans; the only difference is he traded a red jumpsuit for a red jersey and cap.
So it shall be that the man who was born a year after the television series inspiring this article left the airwaves should be known as Texas’ Six Million Dollar Man.
He might not be bigger, stronger, or faster.
But there’s no question he’s better.