Bartolo Colon Looks To Stem Cells For New Start

At least for the moment, it's safe to say that the Yankees' decision to sign Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal has paid off. Aside from a four-inning, five-run no-decision at the hands of the Rangers four days ago, Colon has pitched efficiently into the late innings in each of his four starts, his fastball is just a half-a-mph below his career average, and he's striking out batters at his best rate since 2000.

Of course it's early in the season, but MLBTR's Mike Axisa recently pointed out that according to a Fangraphs statistic that calculates a player's financial value based on how much teams have paid free agents for similar production, Colon is already worth more than double the $900K the Yankees are paying him.

What's to explain Colon's resurgence, at age 37 and after five years dominated by shoulder and elbow problems?  According to a story in the Dominican daily Diario Libre, the new life in Colon's arm could be partially attributable to two treatments of stem cells – or "células madre" as they're called in the Dominican Republic, where Colon had the procedures. The doctors, Sergio Guzman and Leonel Liriano, told the newspaper they had envisioned using the treatment on Pedro Martinez, but they also sent "an invitation" out to Colon, which he accepted in March 2010. (Pedro's invitation, the article says, is still open). Guzman was quick to insist, though, that when they took fatty tissue and bone marrow from Colon's hip and injected it into injured tissues in his rotator cuff and elsewhere in his right shoulder, they weren't doing anything revolutionary.

"We have not invented anything, nor have we done anything new. This is being done the world over," Guzman explained. "We received some training overseas to handle this type of things. Harvard University donated the centrifuges. This is no invention. What we do is take a little bit of bone marrow and we put it into an affected area."

Among major league pitchers, the bar for success with stem cell treatments is Takashi Saito, who received an injection of platelet-rich plasma in his pitching elbow in July of 2008, at age 38, in an attempt to avoid Tommy John surgery. Saito was closing for the Dodgers again by September, and was a largely reliable option for the Red Sox and Braves over the next two seasons.

The Yankees would be thrilled to have similar production from Colon, though they did not know the full story behind Colon's resurgence until recently. Yankees GM Brian Cashman told Serge F. Kovaleski of the New York Times that he had not known about the treatment when the team signed him. (Cashman has since learned about the procedure and informed MLB about it). In both Saito's and Colon's cases, the doctors insisted that age is precisely what made the pitcher a suitable patient.

"We did not want to do a trial on a young 23, 24 year old, because the effectiveness could be questioned due to his age," Guzman said. "We did it with a veteran, and we hope that Felix Sanchez and other Dominican athletes that have suffered injuries will also submit to this treatment so that they can prove what can be done with stem cells."

While Colon has had success on the international stage after his treatment, this new chapter in his career has yet to truly play out. But with no imminent threats to his role with the Yankees, he stands likely to be given the opportunity to prove himself as the first stem-cell success in a starting rotation.

37 Responses to Bartolo Colon Looks To Stem Cells For New Start Leave a Reply

  1. Dr. Frank N Furter 4 years ago

    I love that this news broke out just when I was writing my Kinesiology paper (final exam paper actually) concerning on modern genomic science on athletes and health care /nerd

    • JacksTigers 4 years ago

      What’s Kinesiology?

      • Dr. Frank N Furter 4 years ago

        study of sports science/human movement. focusing on sports itself, biomechanics, physical therapy, skill acquisition, etc.

      • Ferrariman 4 years ago

        essentially its the study of your body’s motion and bio-mechanics. Really interesting stuff.

        • JacksTigers 4 years ago

          So would that make the trainers in MLB dugouts Kinesioligists?

  2. I know it’s legal but is this the next “questionable” option for success in professional sports? I suspect Colon’s results so far are atypically promising, but has Selig, Weiner (MLBPA) or anyone weighed in on this? Thoughts?

    • YanksFanSince78 4 years ago

      It’s a procedure that is pretty much common place in the “real” world. As long as HGH isn’t involved then what’s to investigate?

      • Yeah that’s pretty much my thinking so far but I don’t know much about it. Your point about HGH though also makes me wonder, if this sort of thing becomes more commonplace, will it need to be regulated to ensure HGH / other substances don’t get mixed up in it? Just wondering where other fans who might be more knowledgeable would draw the line.

    • This could be the next questionable enhancement, but at least they are being completely open about it, which means Selig and the MLBPA will have an easy time deciding how to move forward with this treatment.

      • I think everyone who has participated in this course of treatment has been fairly open about it, and has participated as a direct response to an injury. Have to wonder how much potential for abuse there might be without regulation.

      • woadude 4 years ago

        McGuire was open about Andro, it being above his locker during interviews, and what was Andro you might wonder?

    • coolstorybro222 4 years ago

      he didn’t take PED’s or HGH. So yeah.

    • $19914389 4 years ago

      The marrow came from his own body though so I can’t see how he could ever be penalised – he’s just using all of himself to better his performance. If the marrow came from an external source, I guess that would be something to look at.

    • Unless Bartolo Colon is taking bone marrow from a mountain lion or the insulation from a polar bear, I don’t really have a problem with it.


    • stl_cards16 4 years ago

      If this becomes “questionable” then TJ surgery will be right there with it. There is nothing wrong with making your body healthy without taking illegal or banned drugs.

      • ykw 4 years ago

        Until it’s banned, too. But what’s the difference? Because some guy in a New York office likes one course of treatment, but shakes his finger at another? The substance that’s banned today could be unbanned tomorrow, while the substance that’s SOP could get you suspended tomorrow. There’s no way to predict what the Commissioner’s Office will think or do about these treatments.

  3. dshires4 4 years ago

    This is actually really an issue of semantics: since this is technically enhancing his natural performance [without the procedure], it’s technically an enhancement. It shouldn’t be an issue, but I can see it becoming one, honestly.

    • icedrake523 4 years ago

      This is as much performance enhancing as corrective eye surgery.

      • Lunchbox45 4 years ago

        I like reasonable people

      • ykw 4 years ago

        Who’s to say that Lasix, et al, =won’t= be the next therapy group to fall under the ban hammer?

        • icedrake523 4 years ago

          If it does, it’s bloody stupid. Either you ban the surgery and glasses because they yield the same results. Or you ban the surgery but not glasses simply because it’s surgery. No matter what, there’s no logical reason to do so.

      • dshires4 4 years ago

        Notice how I said it’s an issue of semantics? Some people could see it as performance enhancing. I never said I saw it as that… 

    • Dr. Frank N Furter 4 years ago

      not really, this procedure is really about restoring the muscle on its non-injured and cleaned level so it’s not really like enhancing the potential like what steroids would do.

    • YanksFanSince78 4 years ago

      The key is they aren’t using any illegal or banned substances. Even steroids are technically legal if they serve a medical purpose.

  4. vtadave 4 years ago

    Nice. Anyone know where the Dodgers can get some stem cells for James Loney, the bullpen, and most hitters not named Kemp or Ethier?

  5. phoenix2042 4 years ago

    Imagine if Pedro Martinez got these kinds of results from this procedure. If he came back as even a shadow of his early 2000s self, like Colon has, that would be a huge story. The man was a beast, and getting some raw stuff back, turning back the clock… how awesome would that be!

    • 0bsessions 4 years ago

      I’m honestly hoping that Pedro sees the results so far and gives it a shot. Seeing him pitch again to anything near his potential would be fantastic.

    • Slopeboy 4 years ago

      @Obsessions as well. Correct if I’m not understanding it. This procedure has to do more with injury recovery than turning back the clock, so this would not necessarily help Pedro return to his former killer self, would it? As I recall, Pedro’s issues were not injury, but that age was catching up with his incredible standards.

      When Colon left MLB, he couldn’t pitch because of the injury, he still had the capacity to compete effectively if sound, as opposed to Pedro.

    • zach_puke 4 years ago

      too bad nolan ryan and tom seaver dont give it a shot! and then sandy koufax!

  6. Platelet-rich plasma does not contain stem cells. PRP works by re-inducing inflammation at the point of injection to make the body use its natural mechanisms to repair weak tendons, ligaments, or muscles. There are not any stem cells floating around in the blood, at least to the undifferentiated level of those in the marrow.

    Long story short, this is unprecedented in baseball if Kuo is the only other comparable. Maybe this is what Clemens will claim he was injected with now instead of B12.

    • Tickertape 4 years ago

      Yes, this is certainly PRP, NOT stem cells. Although the efficacy is still questionable, there is anecdotal evidence that this procedure has some positive effects. This is being performed in the US as well. Call any orthopedist and they will tell you the same.

  7. Is anyone like me? When you read this article, do you get an “Operation” game vibe?

  8. BaronOfBacon 4 years ago

    Fatty tissue and bone marrow from the hip? Hey, I guess all that extra weight finally paid off for Colon (with a little help from the hip, of course)

  9. woadude 4 years ago

    The Angels need to do this for that Kendrys Morales boy.

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