Mailbag: David Cone

Mailbag: Nunez, Wilson, Trading Picks
Open Thread: Shelley Duncan
(Photo via

Kurt asks: I was just curious about how David Cone came to the Yankees, and if you considered him underrated?

Cone is by far my most favorite analyst on YES, and he was also one of my most favorite players on the team during his 5+ seasons in pinstripes. He won the Cy Young Award with the Royals in 1994 (16-5, 2.94), but they traded him to the Blue Jays shortly after the strike ended for Chris Stynes and two minor leagues. After 17 very good starts for Toronto (9-6, 3.38), the fifth place Jays sent him to the Yankees just before the 1995 trade deadline for Marty Janzen and a pair of minor leaguers (Jason Jarvis and Mike Gordon). Intra-division trades weren’t as frowned upon back then.

Cone stepped right into a Yankees’ rotation that included Jack McDowell, Sterling Hitchock, Andy Pettitte, and Scott Kamieniecki. Shoulder problems sent Opening Day starter Jimmy Key to the DL after just five starts, so that’s essentially who Cone replaced. The fill-in starter whose job he took after the trade? Some skinny kid from Panama named Mariano Rivera, who had a 5.40 ERA in 40 IP across eight starts before giving way to Cone.

The Yankees were 41-42 and in third place on the day of the trade, but Cone helped them to a 38-23 finish by going 9-2 with a 3.82 ERA in his 13 starts. Cone, 32 at the time, pitched okay against the Mariners in the ALDS (eight runs in 15.2 IP), though he infamously walked Doug Strange with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth of Game Five to force in the tying run. That game/series was the first time I ever felt true heartbreak as a baseball fan. It was brutal.

Cone became a free agent after the season, but the Yankees eventually re-signed him to a three-year deal worth $18M, the going rate for ace-caliber pitchers back then. He spent most of the 1996 season on the DL due to an aneurysm in his arm, but he threw seven no-hit innings in his first game back. Cone finished the season at 7-2, 2.88 in just eleven starts, then got rocked in the ALDS (6 IP, 6 R) by the Rangers before pitching well in the ALCS (6 IP, 2 R) against the Orioles and in the World Series (6 IP, 1 R) against the Braves. Everyone remembers the Andy Pettitte-John Smoltz matchup in Game Five, but Cone outdueled Tom Glavine in Game Three to keep his team from falling behind in the series three games to none.

During the final two years of his deal, Cone went a combined 32-13 with a 3.20 ERA, helping the Yankees to another World Series title with a 20-win season in 1998. The Yankees re-signed him to a two-year deal worth $20M or so after the 1998 season, and although he pitched well in 1999 (12-9, 3.44 ERA), throwing a perfect game against the Expos in July, he turned in one of the worst pitched seasons in Yankees’ history in 2000 (4-14, 6.91 ERA). During his 5+ years in the Bronx, Cone went 64-40 with a 3.90 ERA, though it was 60-26 with a 3.31 ERA before that ugly 2000 season. He helped them to six playoff appearances and three World Championships, twice going to the All-Star Game (1997 and 1999) and thrice finishing in the top six of the AL Cy Young voting (1995, 1998, and 1999).

I don’t think Cone was underrated during his time with the Yankees, but I think he was easy to underappreciate because he always seemed to pitch well and deep into games. Does that make sense? His high-end production was easy to take for granted after a while, which is sorta like what’s happening with CC Sabathia. Cone was a key part of the most recent Yankees dynasty, and those guys tend to live forever in our memories.

Mailbag: Nunez, Wilson, Trading Picks
Open Thread: Shelley Duncan
  • noseeum

    Yeah, Cone will always be one of my favorite players. He handled the media better than anyone I can remember.

  • Kosmo

    Cone was a big game pitcher, fun to watch carve up a lineup. Cone would have definitely been given HOF consideration if he had maybe 20-25 wins in addition to his 194.
    Interesting bit of trivia- In 2001 he was the opposing pitcher when Mussina thru his near perfect game vs. Boston.

    • Jimmy

      Stupid Carl Everett.

  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    So how does AJ Burnett have “the worst ERA of any Yankee starter in a season” (which many people, sites have said) with Cone’s 2000 season sitting out there?

    • Slugger27

      who said that?

      • Andy In Sunny Daytona

        I guess Cone didn’t officially qualify for the ERA title that year (5 innings short).

        • Andy In Sunny Daytona

          Sorry…7 innings.

  • the Oberamtmann

    Yikes. Another thing we don’t see anymore: non-contenders trading prospects for a big-time pitcher with one year left. What were the blue jays thinking?

    • radnom

      Non contender? They were world series defending champs at the time of the trade, they won it in 92, 93. In strike shortened 94 they fell back a bit mostly due to pitching – I’m sure they thought they would be contending in 95.

      • the Oberamtmann

        Good point. I was thinking that, like today, teams generally knew if they would contend or be in fifth place.

  • Scully

    Everyone remembers how dominant David Wells was in 1998 after his perfect game in May. Cone was flat out dominant the whole season. Best 1-2 punch in Baseball that year.

  • http://none Favrest

    If David Cone pitched for better teams during many of his best seasons, he’d be a borderline HOFer. The Mets gave a few good seasons, and a few terrible ones. He won a CY on KC which is astonishing.

  • well you know

    Recall Denny Neagle’s glassy-eyed shock when Torre pulled him in favor of Cone with Neagle needing one more out to qualify for the W in the fifth inning of Game 4 of the 2000 WS. Two outs, nobody on, no less.

    It worked, Cone got Piazza. But I don’t think Denny sent Joe a Christmas card that year.

    • nsalem

      Well you know Piazza did hit a home run off of him in the third so maybe he shouldn’t have been shocked.

  • Plank

    I’ll always remember Cone as the guy who jerked off in the bullpen at Shea.

  • Gonzo

    I’ll never forget him the bottom of the 6th of game 3 of the WS in ’96.

    He was pitching with the bases loaded holding on to a slim lead and the announcer said, “He’s got the guts of a cat burglar.” He was just throwing anything to these guys in any count.

    Game 3, down 2 games already, pitching with a 2-run lead, in Atlanta(!), bases juiced, with the meat of the order coming up! That guy’s got cajones. To the cat burglar!

  • Tebow

    Paul O Neil is definitely the best yankee analyst. He is funny and knows what he is talking about.

  • Jonathan

    Real nice guy. He did the KC/Yankees series in KC last year and just walks in like a normal guy and there were like 50 people there claiming to be huge Yankee fans and autograph hunters and i was the only one who knew who he was. It was just downright pathetic considering how well he pitched for us and the huge games he threw.

    If he was on good teams during those big years and he racked up 20+ win seasons instead of medium teens wins he’d be looking at like 250 wins and a chance for the HOF. He’s got the WS, Cy Young, great numbers, just not enough wins for the voters.

  • Pounder

    After his perfect game he was never the same.I think he made a pact with the devil to get him through that game.Was Ghouliani at that game I wonder?

  • deadrody

    Cone, 32 at the time, pitched okay against the Mariners in the ALDS (eight runs in 15.2 IP), though he infamously walked Doug Strange with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth of Game Five to force in the tying run. That game/series was the first time I ever felt true heartbreak as a baseball fan. It was brutal.

    I know exactly what you mean. The memory is seared into my mind. Not of that walk, but the double down the line that scored the winning run. One of those things you just KNOW as a serious baseball fan – a runner with decent speed can and will score from first on a double. And there was junior, scoring the winning run. Damn.

  • Kevin

    speaking of memories seared into your mind..they are showing the 1996 and 98 World Series on MLB Network right now..the good old days..

  • Garce

    Coney was noticeably absent from the YES booth this past season. Any reason why?

  • Garq

    Coney was noticeably absent from the YES booth this past season. Any reason why?

  • Jorell

    The first baseball game I remember watching was Cone’s first game back from his aneurysm. I was nine, and I didn’t really understand what an aneurysm was exactly, but i knew it was a serious condition so I was really impressed with his performance. Didn’t really understand back then why Joe Torre took him out of the game though. Anyway, after that Cone became my favorite pitcher on the team until he left after the 2000 season. During the rare occasion I would pitch in a baseball game. I would emulate his pitching style too. I just loved how smooth his delivery was.