Blue Jays: Best one-season wonder at first base

Division Series - Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays - Game Five
Division Series - Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays - Game Five / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages

As far as Cinderella stories go, there was no better tale of perseverance, of an underdog overcoming all obstacles placed before him, than Chris Colabello.

Colabello’s life was a true fairy tale in 2015. He was never supposed to make it in professional baseball. He played his college baseball at tiny Assumption College in his native Massachusetts, a school with an enrollment of less than 2,000. He was never drafted and spent seven years in independent ball, dreaming of the day a big league club would notice him.

That opportunity finally came in 2012, when Colabello signed with the Minnesota Twins. By the time he made his Major League debut in 2013, he was almost 30-years-old. After two non-descript years in Minnesota, Colabello was plucked off waivers by the Blue Jays in December 2014, and that’s when his story really begins. 

The Blue Jays scored nearly 130 runs more than any other team in the 2015 season, posting an OPS 40 points higher than any other club as well. They were an offensive juggernaut, and Colabello was a big part of it.

Colabello, who had never played more than 60 games with the Twins, appeared in 101 in his first year with the Blue Jays. He hit 15 home runs. His .321 batting average was the highest on the team by nearly 25 points. He was fourth on the team in OPS, behind only MVP Josh Donaldson, José Bautista, and Edwin Encarnación. They were All-Stars, expected to produce big offensive numbers; Colabello was not. In franchise history, only Carlos Delgado and John Olerud had as high an average and OPS as first basemen as Colabello.

Colabello started 10 of the Blue Jays' 11 games in the postseason as the franchise snapped their 22-year playoff drought. He went .282 with two home runs and three RBI. He had four multi-hit games; only Encarnación had more that postseason. His home run in Game 4 of the ALDS was part of a three-run first inning as the Blue Jays extended the Texas Rangers to a fifth and deciding game, where Colabello got another two hits.

He was the Blue Jays Opening Day starting first baseman in 2016. Finally, all the years of toil and struggle at the lowest levels of the game had paid off. Then, his fairy tale became a nightmare. His MLB dream was over just as quickly and suddenly as it began.

Colabello arrived in Spring Training hoping to build on his breakout season a year before. He submitted his mandatory drug test five days early, believing he had nothing to hide. But, in March, he got a phone call that changed his life: Colabello had tested positive for turinabol, a banned performance-enhancing substance. He was promptly suspended for 80 games.

Colabello maintained his innocence, pleaded for some leniency. He didn’t know how the drug got into his system. But there was no respite coming.

“I want people to understand, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody,” a teary Colabello told Sportsnet’s Jamie Campbell soon after the suspension was announced. “This has thrown a pretty big wrench in my life. Thrown it upside down.”

Colabello played ten games at the start of 2016 while appealing his suspension. He went just two-for-29 with no extra-base hits. His appeal was denied. The suspension stood. Colabello, baseball’s premier underdog story, never played in the Majors again.

Whether Colabello was sincere will probably never be known for sure. Baseball has such a checkered history with PEDs that any positive test is taken as a sign of dishonest intentions. His story is one of ultimate success and tragic failure. He reached the heights of the game, then fell straight to the bottom.

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