Feb
07

The David Cone Years

By

(Photo via baseball.wikia.com)

David Cone was no stranger to New York. The Yankees acquired the right-hander from the Blue Jays just before the 1995 trade deadline in exchange for three young pitchers — Jason Jarvis, Mike Gordon, and Marty Janzen — three years after his five-and-a-half year stint with the Mets came to an end. Cone, 32 at the time, was a hired gun. A hired gun that just so happened to be a former World Champion and the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner.

“What’s not to like?” said Don Mattingly after the trade. “I don’t even know the other three guys … It’s kind of like with John Wetteland. We got him for nothing.”

The Yankees were six-and-a-half games behind the division-leading Red Sox at the time of the trade, but they were on a six-game winning streak and had surged from ten-and-a-half back with an 11-4 stretch. Cone went 9-2 with a 3.82 ERA after the trade but the Yankees were unable to move past Boston in the standings. Instead, they were the first AL Wild Card team in baseball history. Cone got the ball in Game One of the ALDS against the Mariners, and led his team to a win by allowing four runs in eight innings. The decisive Game Five did not go as well, as Cone’s 147th and final pitch of the night was ball four to the light hitting Doug Strange, forcing in the tying run in the bottom of the eighth.

The Yankees went on to lose the game and series in extra innings, and Cone became a free agent after the season. Jimmy Key was slated to come back from injury, but they were still in a position to lose both Cone and Jack McDowell that offseason.

“It’s not my money, but I’d bring both of them back,” said manager Buck Showalter that September. “Where else are you going to find guys like that?” George Steinbrenner was a bit more business-like, saying “Cone’s not the only one out there.”

The Orioles, who finished eight games back of the Yankees in 1995, pursued Cone that offseason at owner Peter Angelos’ behest. The Mets also got involved at the last minute. Cone re-signed with the Yankees a few days before Christmas, after spending three days being courted at Steinbrenner’s hotel in Tampa. It was a three-year deal worth $19.5M, with two player options worth $5.5M each and a full no-trade clause. Baltimore offered three years and $17.7M, the Mets three years and $15M.

“George called me directly and offered me a no-trade clause and that proved to me that he really wanted to make a commitment,” said Cone after signing. “I don’t have to worry about being traded. He wanted me to be a Yankee and he proved it. That’s what I was looking for.”

Cone got the ball on Opening Day in 1996, and allowed just one run total in his first three starts. Something wasn’t right though. Cone was feeling numbness in his right fingers and then spasms in his forearm. The Yankees skipped one of his starts later in the month and sent him to the hospital. An angiogram ruled out a blood clot, and the doctors started pumping him full of blood thinners. Cone made a start in early-May and was brilliant, holding the high-powered White Sox to one unearned run in nine innings. Less than a week later, he was on operating table and having an aneurysm removed from his right shoulder.

“We picked this up early, that’s the good news,” said Dr. Stuart Hershon while GM Bob Watson added: “I don’t think it’s a life-threatening situation … They caught it early. It is correctable. It’s not career-threatening. Hopefully, he’ll be back this year. Hopefully. There’s no guarantee.”

(Photo via ESPN)

There was no timetable for Cone’s return, and he wasn’t even allowed to lift his arm above his shoulder for the first seven weeks of his rehab. Baseball players are perpetual optimists when it comes to injuries, and Cone took that rehab milestone as a sign that he’d be back on the roster in August. Watson spent most of the summer looking for an extra starter just in case, though he ultimately settled on minor trades for relievers Billy Brewer and David Weathers.

Cone made his first rehab start on August 21st, then made his second a week later. A week after that, he was back on the active roster and back in the rotation. In his first start back — exactly four months after his last start — Cone threw seven no-hit innings against the Athletics before a pitch count forced him from the game. He made four more starts in September, finishing the season with a 7-2, 2.88 record. The Yankees went out of their way to give him some extra rest after the long layoff, which is why Cone got eight days off between Game One of the ALDS and Game Two of the ALCS, then eleven days off before Game Three of the World Series.

The Yankees had lost the first two games of the Fall Classic at home to the Braves, getting blown out in Game One and shutout in Game Two. Charged with keeping his team alive, Cone was matched up against Tom Glavine in Game Three and tossed six innings of one-run ball. The bullpen made it standup, and the Yankees were back in business.

”Given everything he has been through,” said first-year manager Joe Torre, ”I think this was the toughest start he’s ever had to make.”

Cone didn’t throw another pitch that year as the Yankees won the series in Game Six, but he was the scheduled starter for Game Seven if it had gotten that far. An offseason of rest after the most difficult season of his career was followed by yet another Opening Day start, the fourth of his career. He allowed four runs in the first game of the season, then allowed one run or less in nine of his next 14 starts. Cone finished the season with a 12-9 record but a 2.82 ERA, the victim of some spotty run support and a leaky bullpen. He didn’t make it out of the fourth inning in Game One of the ALDS as the Yankees were bounced by the Indians in five games.

One of the team’s three ace-caliber hurlers in 1998, Cone went 20-7, 3.55 as the Yankees won 114 regular season games. He set a new MLB record for years between 20-win seasons with ten. Cone won the ALDS clincher against the Rangers, the ALCS clincher against the Indians, and Game Three of the World Series against the Padres. He also finished fourth in the AL Cy Young voting, and leveraged his player option into a new one-year, $8M contract after the season.

”I always made it clear that my first choice was the Yankees,” said Cone. ”That’s where I want to be, where I want to end my career … Some people might second-guess me for not testing the free-agent waters, but I’m satisfied.”

Cone started 1999 in dominant fashion, pitching to a 13-4, 2.86 record through the first three months of his age 36 season. Steinbrenner and Yogi Berra had reconciled after a long feud, and Yogi Berra Day celebrated his return to Yankee Stadium on July 18th. Yogi caught the first pitch from Don Larsen, his batterymate for the only perfect game in World Series history, Game Five of 1956 World Series against the Dodgers. With Berra back at the Stadium and Larsen in the owner’s box, Cone threw the 16th perfect game in MLB history, sitting down all 27 Expos he faced. He endured a 33-minute rain delay in the third inning.

(ZelevanskyAP)

”I probably have a better chance of winning the lottery than this happening today,” said Cone after the game. ”What an honor. All the Yankee legends here. Don Larsen in the park. Yogi Berra Day. It makes you stop and think about the Yankee magic and the mystique of this ballpark.”

Cone was never the same after that game. It was the final complete game shutout of his career, and he pitched to a 6-8, 4.82 record the rest of the season. The Yankees won their second straight World Series that fall, though Cone didn’t appear in the ALDS before winning Game Two if the ALCS and Game Two of the World Series. Although the two sides reunited with a new contract after the season, the Yankees wouldn’t budge from a one-year offer. Cone eventually agreed to return for $12M.

There have been 608 instances of a pitcher throwing at least 100 innings in a single season for the Yankees, and none have ever posted a higher ERA than David Cone in 2000. No one is within half-a-run of him either. Cone tried new arm angles and new grips, the Yankees gave him extra rest and altered his schedule, but nothing worked. He allowed 31 runs in his final 26 innings and wasn’t allowed anywhere near the mound in the ALDS before throwing one garbage time inning in the ALCS.

Cone’s last hurrah in pinstripes came on October 25th, in Game Four of the World Series. Denny Neagle — who was acquired at the deadline because Cone’s performance had left the team short a starter — started the game. Mike Piazza had taken him deep in the third inning and was at the plate again with two outs in the fifth. Neagle had retired the first two men of the inning on fly balls, but Torre took the ball from him and brought in Cone for the matchup.

“Mike traditionally takes a strike, usually,” said Cone after the game. “I was a little careful with the first pitch, up and in. Then I threw a fastball away for a strike he took, then I threw two straight sliders. One he missed and one he fouled off … We tied him up. He popped it up.”

The Yankees won their fourth World Championship of the David Cone years the next night. He didn’t contribute much this time around, but he was allowed to tag along for the ride after doing so much for the team over the previous five years. It was no secret that the Yankees were going to move in a different direction after the season, but there were no hard feelings on either end.

”It was just a marvelous run,” said Cone. ”Nobody can take away from those years, regardless of what happens to me from here on out. My gut instinct is that I want to go somewhere where I’m needed, and there isn’t a great need for me with the Yankees.”

Cone signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox after the season, officially closing the book on his Yankees tenure. He went 64-40 with a 3.91 ERA in pinstripes, winning four titles and beating one aneurysm. The way the team was built meant he never had to be that undisputed ace, rather just be one of five starters and give his all every five days. Cone did that and more, the hired gun that became a rotation stalwart.

Categories : Days of Yore
  • Plank

    I’ll always remember Cone in the most dignified way possible – showing his junk to some ladies in the Mets bullpen.

  • jsbrendog

    i wish i could sit down and watch every game of the 1996 world series again. i miss coney.

  • viridiana

    Excellent detailed post.

  • Jamey

    “What’s not to like?” said Don Mattingly after the trade. “I don’t even know the other three guys … It’s kind of like with John Wetteland. We got him for nothing.”

    That’s just an awesome quote. I’d still think that even if even 1 of those guys ended up doing anything at the MLB level.

    Days of Yore can also refer to one of the last times when there was only a select group of fans that knew who any of the team’s prospects were, even #1 picks.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      If this were 2012, how many posts would there be on the relative merits of Marty Janzen, whose name I only know because he seemed to be a piece of a lof trades back then?

      • http://twitter.com/urbainshockcor Urban

        It would be hard to argue with acquiring the standing AL Cy Young winner for a AA pitcher who came in 40th in BA’s rankings. Certainly a prospect, but I can’t imagine even the strongest prospect hugger would have blinked an eye with Cone being the return. Question is, what happen to Janzen? Did he injure his arm, because his decline was sudden and ugly?

        One of the best deals in Yankee history.

  • Dan

    was at Game 4 of the 2000 Series. Huge Huge Huge out by Cone. Will always have very fond memories of him. Great pitcher and always fun to watch.

  • Gonzo

    Game 3 in 1996. Guts of a cat burglar.

    • Claudell

      Agreed. Games 4 and 5 of that series will always be what people remember most (plus the clinching game, of course), but he got them back into the series with that Game 3 performance. Watching him outduel Tom Glavine was a real pleasure. Vintage Cone right there.

  • https://twitter.com/Mattpat11 Matt DiBari

    I’ll never understand why some people (writers) consider being a “hired gun” a negative.

    If you’re so good that contending teams want you every year, that should be the greatest testament to your ability.

    • Plank

      Because they are just greedy money-grubbers trying to take money out of the noble owners’ hands.

      If you report otherwise, you’ll have your credentials taken away.

      • Rainbow Connection

        You’re supposed to hold your team hostage with a PR nightmare like Jeter does. THAT’S a real team player.

        • Kiko Jones

          +2

    • Gonzo

      Sells copy.

  • John

    he also appeared in one great “Only in New York” commercial for the Yankees.

    “hey Coney, why don’t you have a dance?” ahh the 90′s….

  • Monterowasdinero

    And he is a great analyst and a pleasure to listen to on TV.

    • Rich in NJ

      One of the few on YES.

      • https://twitter.com/Mattpat11 Matt DiBari

        I actually think Ken Singleton is the best sportscaster in New York

        • Kiko Jones

          Indeed.
          “This one is…GONE!”

      • Skip

        You should hear the crap for other teams around the country. YES is far and away the most professional.

  • Accent Shallow

    Opposing pitcher in Mike Mussina’s almost perfect game against the Sox in 2001.

    • Dave in VA

      Possibly Coney’s last great game. Over the first 8 innings he scattered four hits, only to give up an UNearned run with one out in the top of the ninth. It was a classic pitcher’s duel that kept us glued to the TV the whole game.

  • Sean

    Was at his perfect game with my brother, my dad, and my grandfather. It was the first time my father and grandfather had ever been to a Yankee game. It was really special.

  • noseeum

    I wish he got more Hall of Fame consideration. No denying he was a stud pitcher for 12 years. Very likely he would have had two more 20 win seasons if not for the strike.

    Played for some terrible Mets and Royals teams while at his peak.

    He’s not a shoo-in or anything, but he deserved a bunch of years on the ballot at least.

  • BronxBomber98

    Great article Mike. Loved it.

  • Bryan G

    Coney has always been one of my favorite players, not only because he was awesome, but he also did one of the coolest things of my childhood.

    In ’98 I was 8 years old and my family went up to Montreal to watch them play the Expos. Coney was signing autographs before the game and there was a huge crowd by the railing waiting for him. My dad brought me down and tried to wedge me up front so I could get a signature. Just as I started to get close to the front, Coney said he was done signing. As he was beginning to turn away another fan helped me out and let me scoot all the way up to the railing, at this point Coney had already taken about 4 or 5 steps back to the dugout. When he saw me reaching out over the rail, he turned around, walked straight up to me, signed my ball and then proceeded to go to the dugout. Obviously I was freaking pumped.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    If you don’t love David Cone, you have no soul.

  • Darren

    He’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer in my mind.

    Forget about the numbers for a second and just look at the name of the institution.

    Hall of FAME. Does Cone’s level of fame rise to the level of admittance? To quote Crackhead Bob, “I think so.”

    Hired gun that came through time after time. Look at what he did for The Blue Jays after they acquired. Totally came thorugh under massive pressure.

    5 WS rings. Five!

    great post-season record and ERA

    PERFECT GAME on Yogi Berra day!

    8.28 k/9 (career! that’s pretty awesome)

    Won 20 games for Yankees and Mets.

    He is deserving of the honor.

  • kevin

    Thanks for this article. I loved David Cone! He was really the Yankee ace during his time with the team, although his legacy is somewhat hurt by the fact that he was injured a lot. It is true that after the perfect game, he wasn’t the same again. Although he was horrible in 2000, I applauded Torre for sticking with him. Even when he couldn’t pitch well any more, couldn’t re-invent himself just one more time, he still pitched with heart! One correction: Coney was 12-6 in 1997. He was 12-9 in 1999.

  • hugh

    Loved the article. Love the comments. Great memories.

  • http://www.pinstripealley.com greatscott723

    The Yankees lost the ’97 ALCS in 5 games, not 4. You’re mixing it up with 2007.

    • http://www.pinstripealley.com greatscott723

      *’97 ALDS that is.

  • http://twitter.com/urbainshockcor Urban

    Did the strike of ’94 and ’95 cost Cone a shot at the HOF? He was a HOF-caliber pitcher who didn’t have the longevity, yet without the strike, he might have made it on quality, mixed in with some traditional stats many HOF voters love.

    He won the Cy Young in ’94 with 16 wins and 1/3 of the season wiped out. A 22 to 24 win season was in the works, and at the miniumum he would have reached 20. The following year he won 18 with the first part of the season gone. The lost four to five starts might have cost him another 20-win season. So the strike-impacted seasons might have cost him two 20-win seasons, back-to-back, taking him up to four on his career, while also robbing him of the chance for a huge win total in ’94, similar to Verlander’s in ’11. Those wins also would have taken him past 200 for his career.

    His HOF chances were probably hurt more than any other players by the strike.

    • Jonathan

      That and bad run support. I agree with you. He had the post season heroics, the Cy, the perfect game and very close regular season stats. If he has 220 wins and 20 less losses or so…it’s very close.

  • Jonathan

    Here’s to David Cone. Couldn’t be nicer to the fans and it’s sad how few people remember him. He was part of the announcing crew last year in KC when the Yankees came to town where he won the freaking Cy Young award but I was the only person out of about 100 autograph hunting (Yankee and Royals fans) fans who knew who he was. And he still looks the same and is in great shape. If not for a few injuries and piss poor run support I believe he’d be a hall of famer. Almost 60 fWAR, the Cy, the rings. Very close.