Classic Yankees: David Cone

Known as a “hired gun” he had a 20-3 record one season, won a Cy Young, helped Canada win a World Series title, and helped another franchise to its first World Series title in 18 years. He also pitched a perfect game and now works as a broadcaster.

David Cone started his career in 1986 for the Royals. In eleven games his rookie season, all in relief, he was 0-0, 5.56, ERA+ 77. The Royals were ending the best period in their history (1976-1985) and were about to fall into an abyss they still haven’t climbed out of. In trading Cone to the Mets, they made one of the worst blunders in their history.

Cone went 5-6, 3.71 in 1987 for the Mets, ERA+ 103. In 1988, he seemed to come out of nowhere. On a staff with Doc Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez, and Bobby Ojeda, it was Cone who went 20-3, 2.22, ERA+ 147 and who led the majors with an .870 winning percentage, and who was an All-Star, 3rd in CYA voting and 10th in MVP voting. He started two NLCS games, pitched in relief in another, and was 1-1, 4.50. His CG victory in Game 6 temporarily kept the Mets alive.

He was 14-8, 3.52 in 1989, ERA+ 93. In both 1990 and 1991 he led MLB in strikeouts. He was 14-10, 3.23, ERA+ 117 in 1990, and led the NL in k/9 and k/bb. He was 14-14, 3.29 in 1991, ERA+ 111 and once again led the NL in k/9. In the final game of the 1991 season, he struck out 19 Phillies.

In 1992, Cone started the “Hired Gun” legend. He was 13-7, 2.88 for the Mets when he was dealt at the end of August to the Blue Jays for Ryan Thompson and Jeff Kent. He went 4-3, 2.55 for Toronto. Overall he was 17-10, 2.81 for the year, ERA+ 129. In the ALCS, he was 1-1 with an ERA of 3.00, and then he was 0-0, 3.48 in two World Series starts as Canada won its first World Series. He was named to the All-Star team while with the Mets.

He went to KC (KC II) in 1993, and went 11-14, 3.33 ERA+ 138. In 1994, he won the CYA in that strike-shortened season, going 16-5, 2.94, ERA+ 171. He was an All-Star and finished 9th in the MVP voting. At the pace he was going, he would have gone something like 22-7.

In 1995 he was back in Toronto (Blue Jays II) as the Royals traded him again. He was 9-6, 3.38, ERA+ 140 for the Blue Jays when the Yanks picked him up in a steal of a deal, Marty Janzen being the key to the deal. Janzen did nothing for Toronto. Cone went 9-2, 3.82, ERA+ 122 for the Yanks down the stretch as the Yanks won the wild card. It would be their first postseason berth since 1981. Cone was 18-8, 3.57 for the year, ERA+ 131. He finished 4th in the CYA voting, and led the AL in IP. He won Game 1 of the Division Series, giving up 4 runs in 8 IP. He started Game 5 and pitched his heart out. He got a no-decision, giving up 4 R in 7 2/3 IP, on 163 pitches. For that series, he was 1-0, 4.60.

In 1996, Cone’s season was shortened due to an aneurysm in his pitching arm. He missed about 2/3 of the season. In his first game back after the aneurysm, he threw no-hit ball for seven innings before being removed from the game for health reasons. He was 7-2, 2.88, ERA+ 175. He started and lost Game 1 of the ALDS to Texas. In Game 2 of the ALCS, he got a no decision, giving up 2 R in 6 IP. But he saved his grittiest performance for Game 3 of the WS.

Down 0-2, the Yanks desperately needed a win. Cone gave up 1 R on 4 H in 6 IP and gave the Yanks a win that started the ball rolling as the Yanks, down 0-2, won four games in a row to shock the Braves.  He gutted out a jam in the sixth, giving up just that one run while the Yanks at the time had just a 2-0 lead.

Cone went 12-6, 2.82 in 1997, ERA+ 159. He was an All-Star despite leading the majors in WP. He got a ND in his ALCS start, giving up 6 R in 3 1/3 as he was fighting arm trouble.

He rebounded with a 20-7 season in that magical year of 1998, leading the majors in wins. His ERA was 3.55 and his ERA+ 125. He finished 4th in CYA voting. He pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings to beat the Rangers in the ALCS, went 1-0, 4.15 in two ALCS starts, then got a ND in Game 3 of the WS (6 IP, 3 R, 2 ER, just 2 hits). He had two 20 win seasons in his career—10 years apart.

His last really good year was for the 1999 WS Champion Yankees. He went 12-9, 3.44, ERA+ 137 and was an All-Star and finished 6th in CYA voting. On July 18, 1999, he pitched a perfect game against the Montreal Expos, striking out ten (his catcher in that game was current Yankees manager Joe Girardi).  He did it on “Yogi Berra Day”, which marked Yogi’s return to the Stadium after a 14-year feud with George Steinbrenner. In the house was Don Larsen. After that game, Cone didn’t seem ever to be the same. That perfect game marked the last shutout he would ever pitch. That game made him 10-4, 2.65 for the season, and after that he finished 1999 2-5, 4.82. He didn’t pitch in the ALDS, but won he rebounded from his lackluster 1999 post-perfecto finish in the postseason. In Game 2 of the ALCS, he went 7, giving up 2 runs, and striking out nine. He was superb in winning Game 2 of the WS, giving up just one hit in 7 IP (five walks).

It all came crashing down for Cone in 2000. Yes, he won his fifth WS ring, but the season was a complete disaster for him at age 37 as he went 4-14, ERA 6.91, ERA+ 70. With that performance, he was out of the postseason rotation.  He mopped up one inning in the ALCS, pitching a scoreless inning. In his final appearance as a Yankee, he was called upon in Game 4 of the WS to get just one out. With the Yanks up 3-2 in the fifth, Cone was called upon to face Mike Piazza. The Yanks had a 2-1 edge in games, and the Mets’ two runs were provided on an earlier Piazza HR. Cone got Piazza to pop up and the Yanks held on and won that game 3-2. They would win the WS the next night.

Cone’s postseason record was 8-3, 3.80. He started 18 postseason games and relieved in three more.
His Yankees record was 64-40, 3.91.

In 2001, Cone was in Boston, and had a bit of a comeback year. He went 9-7, 4.31, ERA+ 105. He didn’t pitch at all in 2002.

In 2003, he attempted a comeback with the Mets (Mets II), but it didn’t last long. In four starts and one relief appearance, he went 1-3, 6.50, ERA+ 66.

For his career, Cone went 194-126, ERA 3.46, ERA+ 121. He was a 5x All-Star, won a CYA, was considered for the award 5x, and was on five WS winning teams (four with the Yankees). His 162 g. average was 15-10, 3.46. Twice he finished in the top 10 for MVP voting. He got 3.9% of the HOF vote in 2009 and was dropped off the ballot.

He was a .155 hitter, no HR, 22 RBI. He wore #36 while with the Yankees.

Cone was savvy with the media in his playing career (except, maybe, for his guest column during the 1988 NLCS, which provided the Dodgers some bulletin board material), and was a players representative during those contentious 1994-1995 negotiations in which baseball was shut down.

That media savvy has led Cone to a broadcasting career, and he currently calls some Yankees games for the YES network as a color commentator.

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