Born in Kansas City, Missouri, David Cone grew up a fan of the hometown Kansas City Royals and, in particular, their ace pitcher, Dennis Leonard. Cone admired Leonard's gritty tenacity and his hatred of losing. When Kansas City drafted the hometown kid in the third round of the 1981 draft, Cone seemed set to be a Royal for life.
Facing stiff competition from the likes of pitchers Mark Gubicza and Danny Jackson in the Royals' farm system, Cone did not make it to the major leagues until 1986. Although he appeared in 11 games that season, he started none.
Prior to the 1987 season, the Royals were eager to improve their team offense, having won only 76 games the season before. With pitching appearing to be an expendable commodity, Kansas City traded Cone to the New York Mets for Catcher Ed Hearn. Kansas City Royals' owner Ewing Kaufman would later call it the "the worst trade in Royals' history."
David Cone's pitching strength seemed to be rooted in an arsenal of different pitches - a cut fastball, a slider, a curve, a changeup, or a split-finger fastball - and his ability to throw them at different speeds. His spilt-finger fastball was in a word - wicked - and was often the pitch that bailed him out of trouble. It was said that he appeared at times to "invent" pitches on the spot. "David knows how to get guys out even when his arm feels like crap," said one-time teammate, Tino Martinez.
Cone led the major leagues in strikeouts three straight years from 1990 to 1992. On September 10, 1991 he tied a then National League record when he struck out 19 Philadelphia Phillies in a nine-inning game.
On July 18, 1999 David Cone fanned 10 Montreal Expos and recorded only the 16th perfect game in baseball history. Prior to the game, Don Larsen, the only player to have pitched a perfect game during a World Series, threw out the first pitch. One could only imagine how emotional a day that must have been for Cone and his fans to deliver a perfect game after a guy named Larsen throws out the first pitch of the game.
For all of his pitching prowess, however, it was Cone's charming personality that appeared to make him a bigger hit with the fans and press. During his tenure with the Mets, more than a few fans dubbed themselves "Coneheads" and showed up at Shea Stadium wearing the cones of the Saturday Night Live characters. He would oftentimes leave tickets at the box office for Elvis Presley and Kansas City Royals' players. Never one to avoid the press, he would make himself available even after bad games. And he was known to have played basketball with some of those same members of the press.
Maybe David Cone's return to the New York Mets this season was to indeed bolster their pitching staff. But the move now seems to be more prophetic than anything else. It allowed David Cone to retire as a New York Met.
After spending part of the 2002 season working as a baseball announcer, Mets' pitchers, John Franco and Al Leiter, convinced Cone to give it one more try. After a strong spring, Cone did give it another try on April 4th in front of his fans at Shea Stadium. He pitched five strong innings, thrilling the "Coneheads" and beating Montreal 4-0.
"It was kind of magical," Cone said at his press conference last Friday referring to that April 4th game.
Actually, David Cone's entire New York Mets' career was magical, and the organization and its fans will miss him as a player.
John C. Sinclair writes a New York Mets historical column every Wednesday on NYMFansOnly.com