David Cone, a five-time All-Star and a five-time World Champion, is a New York baseball legend, and he tells his story in the entertaining new book, Full Count: The Education of a Pitcher, written with Jack Curry on (Grand Central Publishing; hardcover, $28; E-book, $14.99; downloadable audiobook, $25.98).
Cone’s career spanned two memorable periods in New York baseball history – the exhilarating, never-boring Mets of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the Yankees dynasty in the late 1990s, which won four World Championships in five seasons. He currently works as an analyst on Yankees games on the YES Network.
Cone is known as a competitor, a “smart” pitcher who was a master of deception, understands the game inside and out, and a clubhouse guy who was usually a part of the hijinks.
Full Count takes readers inside Cone’s mind, as he discusses in vivid detail how the strategies he would use, how he would approach the game, what pitchers he studied, and the hitters who infuriated him. There are never-before-told stories from the memorable teams Cone played on, as well as his teammates Derek Jeter, Darryl Strawberry, David Wells, and Andy Pettitte; Manager Joe Torre, and more.
Some of the highlights include how Cone goes into his meltdowns on the mound in the 1995 ALDS and 1988 NLCS; what Red Sox fans yell at you in the bullpen at Fenway Park; throwing Joe Girardi out of his bullpen before a game; how he begged Gaylord Perry to teach him the spitball, and how Perry wouldn’t do it, but did teach Cone some other important lessons about balance, hiding the baseball, and protecting his arm; how, in the midst of a dreadful 2000 season, Cone was banished by the Yankees to Tampa Bay to try and fix himself, then almost quit and told the Yankees to release him, and for the first time in 20 years, he watched a replay of his perfect game from July 18, 1999 and gives a pitch-by-pitch reflection on what happened that day.
I caught up with Cone recently to discuss Full Count, and here is some of our chat:
Jason Schott: How has pitching changed over the years, from when you pitched to now observing it as an announcer?
David Cone: There’s certainly more power in the game, especially in the bullpens – they’re so much more deeper and so much more power, so many more power arms in the bullpen. It impacts everything and the strike zone has kind of morphed back to what I think is more like a ’70s up-and-down strike zone, as opposed to the ’90s, which were more east and west. I think the strike zone’s definitely different and the bullpens are much deeper…Definitely not eight relievers, much less that many power arms to go to. If you had one or two power arms to go to, you were well above average, and now it seems like a handful or more in every bullpen.
JS: What do you think of the “opener,” where a reliever starts a game for an inning or two?
DC: I kind of like the strategy, you know, especially on the back end of some rotations where you have a young kid that you’re kind of bringing along a little slower. I still think there’s always room for the Max Scherzers and Justin Verlanders of the world. The elite starters will always present themselves, but it’s not a bad strategy for somebody you don’t want to go three times through the order, that’s younger, maybe not as built up. I think it’s an effective strategy.
JS: What were some of the differences pitching for the Mets and Yankees?
DC: Actually, there’s more similarities than you would think, even though Mets and Yankees fans would disagree. Definitely a little more sense of entitlement with Yankees fans, for obvious reasons, and the Mets fans, there’s less of a history there, but certainly no less passion.
JS: What was it like to play for Joe Torre and how much did he meant to that 1990s Yankees dynasty?
DC: He was the right guy at the right time, doing the right thing. He was so graceful under pressure. He got right in front of issues. He would go to the owner, George Steinbrenner, beforehand to circumvent any problems that potentially could have arisen. He was very comfortable in his own skin, you know, he was a great player, he was a manager for a long time, really good broadcaster, too, so he brought a lot of skills to the table and he was very comfortable with who he was.
JS: He knew how to manage your team, a lot of veteran guys that he never had to push hard. There was one moment you wrote about, when he came out to the mound to check that you were alright in Game 3 of the 1996 World Series.
DC: Yes, that was what made him so effective is, because, when he did have a team meeting or he did say something, it was that much more effective because you knew it meant something because it didn’t happen all that often. He definitely let us police ourselves in the clubhouse, but when he needed to do something or say something, we listened.
JS: How satisfying was your return in 1996, after dealing with the aneurysm, when you had that big game on Labor Day in Oakland, when you threw seven no-hit innings?
DC: People ask me, that was definitely the most emotional game that I’ve ever been a part of, from a personal standpoint because I didn’t know if I’d ever pitch again and that was the first game back. Then, getting taken out of that game after seven innings and the drama around that. My dad was in the stands that day, and he sat right over the dugout in the first row, so every time I walked off the mound between innings, I walked like right to him. Usually, the family section is up here away somewhere; it was the first time I’d ever made eye contact like that every inning with the man who taught me how to pitch, on that day, so that made it special.
JS: How special was closer Mariano Rivera to that team?
DC: I joke with Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz all the time, if you had Rivera, you’d have five rings now. The Braves were a great, great team for a lot of years and all those division championships, but they only got one World Series title, and they probably should have had more, and the reason is Mariano…Especially in postseason, they were snakebit by their bullpen issues and that was the difference…Even going back to 1992, when they had Jeff Reardon as their closer, when I was with the Blue Jays, so I faced them three different times in the World Series and it was always the bullpen.
JS: How special was that 1992 championship in Toronto, the first for the Blue Jays and the first non-hockey championship there. What similiarities did you see from your time there to how the city embraced the Raptors’ run to the title this year?
DC: Yes, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime or even a generational type thing for the fans. Canada’s first in ’92, kind of gets glossed over because of the ’93 (title) and the Joe Carter “touch ’em all Joe” home run that was so dramatic, they kind of get lumped together, but the ’92 team, the first, the whole country was galvanized, pretty special to be a part of.
JS: Dave Winfield had some big moments in that 1992 run, including his hit in the clincher in Atlanta.
DC: That was the Winfield moment, you know, people think of joe Carter with those teams, but it was really Winfield that got the game-winning hit in Game 6, and that was a huge moment for him personally and for the country.
JS: I was watching recently, the “30 For 30” on June 17, 1994, the day marked by the O.J. Simpson car chase, and you made a cameo in that pitching to Ken Griffey, Jr. What was it like to pitch that day?
DC: It was crazy, it was surreal, because after the game, and I got knocked around pretty good in that game, I think Ken Griffey, Jr. hit one in the fountain off of me, that was the one (in the documentary), that was a monster home run. After the game, that’s all anybody wanted to do; even the postgame scrum with the beat writers, everybody’s watching the TV, and I was like ‘I didn’t pitch so great, so this is OK,’ but nobody could understand what was going on, it was so surreal, that low-speed chase that kept going on and on and we were like ‘how is this going to end?’ That was just incredible to watch, and shortly thereafter, we ended up having the strike and the season was over…It was a really weird time, ’94 was a really weird year. That’s a night you just never forget where you were or what you were doing, and watching that on television.