Thursday, January 12, 2006

Redemption: Thy Name Is David Cone

I don't know what got me thinking about David Cone lately. After all, he's been out of baseball for a good three years now. Maybe it was all that reading about redemption. Maybe it's all the hating I do on a daily basis that got me thinking about who I actually like. Yeah, David Cone wore the uniform of the toxic sludge team out in the Bronx. And yeah, perhaps I have allowed myself, briefly, to grow a soft spot. But I have to confess this to you all...

I like David Cone...and I always did.

Well, almost always. Before the David Cone for Ed Hearn (and others) trade was considered one of the few lopsided trades to ever go the Mets way (maybe the only one) the trade read something like this: "Greatest backup catcher in the history of baseball traded for schlub."

With the pitching quintuplet of Gooden, Darling, Ojeda, Fernandez, and Aguilera setting high standards for starting pitching at Shea Stadium in 1986 (and perhaps spoiling us for the rest of time when it comes to depth), David Cone to making his Met debut in 1987 amidst a good amount of fanfare was met with a bit of skepticism and high standards. When the headline in the paper read "Cone Creamed" the next day after a 10-0 loss to the Houston Astros, David Cone was seen as an intruder to me. David Cone should not be taking starts from anybody.

I remember the game where Cone turned gave us the first bit of hope that he did indeed belong. It was during that '87 season...and Cone had been struggling so bad that the only game Davey Johnson felt he could trust him in was an exhibition game at Shea against the Red Sox. It was a completion of the "home and home" charity series started at Fenway Park during the '86 season. You could hear groans rise from the crowd when it was announced that Cone would indeed start the game...even though the game meant nothing in the standings. Fans wanted Sox/Mets in '87 to be Game 8...they wanted to see 1986 on the mound instead of the included.

When Cone responded with a strong outing in the 2-0 Mets victory, the relationship between Mets fans and Cone started to thaw...and in retrospect it almost was the first game of the 1988 season for Cone, when he went 20-3 and fell short of the Cy Young award to the 59 straight scoreless innings of Orel Hershiser.

Cone got himself in trouble during the playoffs that season against L.A. when he agreed to pen a special column chronicling the playoffs for one of the local papers. He wrote (or more accurately, said to a columnist for the paper who then crafted his words for print) that the Mets looked at Jay Howell's curveball like a "high school curve ball". I for one loved it...kept the column in my wallet for years. With one snarky comment, whether intended for print or not, David Cone proved that he would have fit right in with the 1986 Mets.

The Dodgers did not love it as much, and as luck would have it, Cone was the game 2 starter in that playoff series and got killed. Afterwards, Cone stopped writing the column. Too bad. I wonder what he would have said after game 3, where Jay Howell got thrown out of the game for enhancing that "high school curve ball" with pine tar in his glove.

What people forget about that series is that Cone bounced back mightily from the column debacle to pitch a complete game in the sixth game with the Mets down three games to two before the Mets ultimately lost the series the next day. Obviously the Mets brass also forgot about that when they traded him for Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson in 1992.

Was that trade the ultimate result of David Cone's alleged unnatural act in the bullpen (think "Williams" from "Heaven Help Us") just a day or two before his nineteen strikeout game against the Phillies on the last day of the '91 season? Who knows. Cone probably thought so. He would have been in the upper half of the morally upstanding citizen section of the clubhouse in 1993, so bad miscalculation there. But it did produce one of the more memorable Howard Stern quotes ever, when he interviewed Cone on his radio show after the 1992 Blue Jays world championship season:

"Hey isn't it ironic that David Cone plays on a team called the B.J.'s?"
If the Len Dykstra/Roger McDowell trade was the beginning of the end for the mid 80's Mets, the Cone trade was the end of the end. Between Dykstra, Nolan Ryan, and now Scott Kazmir, Cone to Toronto gets lost in the pantheon of disasters emanating from the Mets front office. But it was every bit as atrocious. Besides, it was the only trade of the four to be directly linked to a second disaster known as the Kent/Vizcaino for Carlos Baerga about interest from hell which is compounded daily.

In many ways, all of Cone's success with the Yankees...the four rings, the perfect game, even the one out that Cone got in game 4 against Mike Piazza when it seemed the Mets had the Yankees on the ropes...the Mets deserved it. They deserved every twist of that knife for pulling off the unthinkable trade. So unthinkable that the Mets had to bring him back in 2003 for an excorsistic cleansing of the soul. Of course, Art Howe was the priest so there was many an evil spirit left after Cone hung 'em up for good in a Met uniform.

Redemption is a wonderful thing. It was good for Cone. Maybe I need to be redeemed for the fact that I still hold a place in my chicken soup-less soul for a man who wore the battleship gray of the New York Yankees. I don't know. I do know that many a man who traded him away could use a little redemption themselves.


Anonymous said...

I'm whichya and when I say I'm whichya I mean I'm wichya. Capiche?

Anonymous said...

excellent column, metstra. my cone story goes like this: read roger angell's a pitcher's story, took a liking to the guy (cone), and asked myself: what the hell is this guy doing now? mere months later, the mets signed him.

i have his beautiful first 5 innings back on vhs... as i recall, he was perfect except for a double he gave up to the expos' pitcher... tomo okha? the 'spos had the cutest hand warmers, too...

Metstradamus said...