David Cone was in a panic. As he describes it now, he was experiencing an “identity crisis.” It happened over a range of years in the early 2000s, when Cone tried to leave the mound and retire....
David Cone was in a panic. As he describes it now, he was experiencing an “identity crisis.”
It happened over a range of years in the early 2000s, when Cone tried to leave the mound and retire. Believing he was different from your average retiring player, Cone felt he was grounded, that he was ready for the next stage of life.
Maybe he would go into real estate, or own some restaurants. He took meetings, thinking it would be easy to transform into a businessman.
“I thought I had plenty of interests,” he says.
Ultimately, however, Cone learned that only watching shows about flipping houses was insufficient knowledge to start a real estate company, and eating out wasn’t good enough to run his own joint.
He tried to put together a résumé with his agent and business partner, Andrew Levy. Cone was once so irrational about the whole thing, he didn’t want Levy to go to a Crosby, Stills & Nash concert at the Garden on a Friday evening so Levy could help finish the résumé, not thinking about the fact: Where did he need to desperately send it over the weekend?
“He was in a complete panic,” said Levy, who went to the concert.
They hired a professional résumé writer, but there was only so much that could be done. He had been a ballplayer the previous 16 years.
“I realized I have no job skills and I’m really kind of useless,” Cone says. “I think I underestimated what you go through when you retire. … Your whole identity is wrapped up in being a ballplayer.”
Today, his identity is still with the game. The former Mets and Yankees ace eventually elected to pursue broadcasting after his playing days finally ended, and as a Yankees analyst on the YES Network, the 58-year-old has emerged as maybe the best in the business.
Cone combines the old-school mentality of baseball with the new-school knowledge of analytics. He can be smart and funny. He has mastered what he once did on the mound, changing speeds. YES’s head of production and programming John Filippelli describes him as “unpredictable.”
“He’s as good as there has ever been, in my mind,” Filippelli says.
Cone’s angst has faded, but there is a lingering question: Is there more for him to do in the game?
Two years ago, he interviewed for a job as Yankees pitching coach, and while general manager Brian Cashman told him he didn’t have the necessary technological experience, it is hard to believe — considering Cone’s Cy Young awards, his five All-Star appearances, his five World Series rings, his time as an MLB Players Association rep and his knowledge of sabermetrics — an organization wouldn’t want him to run its team, dugout or pitching staff.
“He could be a general manager, a manager, he could obviously be a coach,” Filippelli says, “There isn’t any aspect of the game that he couldn’t work in and excel.”
Now a broadcasting veteran, Cone really likes the booth — but he is unsure of what he wants.
“Do you think I should take another shot?” Cone asks, turning the tables on a reporter, during lunch near Lincoln Center.
Old school meets new school
In 1993, after Cone signed a three-year, $18 million free-agent contract with the Royals, he pitched to a 3.33 ERA with 191 strikeouts in 254 innings, while the White Sox’s Jack McDowell posted a 3.37 ERA with 158 strikeouts in 256 ²/₃ innings.
The White Sox scored six or more runs in 15 of McDowell’s 34 starts, which helped him finish with a 22-10 record. Cone — who had the benefit of six runs or more in just four of his 34 starts — went 11-14.
A starter’s win-loss record ruled the day then.
Thus, while Cone thought he had one of his best seasons, it wasn’t perceived that way. McDowell picked up the AL Cy Young Award.
Cone began studying the numbers more deeply at that point, and he hasn’t stopped reading sites like FanGraphs to learn.
“Some of the smartest people mathematically are interested in the numbers of baseball,” Cone says. “I think we are lucky for that.”
In a baseball world of old school versus new school, where it feels like you are often asked to pick a side, Cone both endorses the sabermetrics numbers and possesses the “been there, done that” mentality.
“The big buzzword was ‘market inefficiency,’ ” Cone says. “The new market inefficiency is experience, but those guys have been pushed out of the game.”
The Yankees hired a manager in Aaron Boone with no experience on the bench. The pitching coach hired instead of Cone, Matt Blake, never pitched professionally.
That doesn’t mean Blake is unqualified — he worked his way through the system and understands the latest technology — but Cone’s career on World Series mounds would seem like an asset.
“That’s what I thought, that was my argument,” Cone says. “A lot of teams have two pitching coaches. Somebody like a Matt Blake. Somebody like a Mel Stottlemyre, with more experience. That was my approach.
“My argument to [Cashman] was, ‘Why not two? Who do you want talking to Gerrit Cole in the seventh inning of Game 7?’ It’s a credibility thing. Somebody who has been there and done that. It’s been marginalized, that part of the game.”
Cashman says he reached out to Cone for the interview.
“He was in the room for a reason,” Cashman says.
Cashman added he feels like bullpen coach Mike Harkey brings the “been there, done that” experience to the current staff.
Both Cone and Cashman agreed Cone did not have experience with the latest technology, like electronic cameras.
“I hired a manager who had never managed, so it wasn’t a lack of experience from that aspect,” Cashman says. “It was just a lack of intimate personal knowledge of the new toys that exist in this game today, but he was in the room for a reason because he’s open-minded and obviously comes with a lot of experience on the mound.”
Cashman believes there is a place in the game for Cone if he pursues it.
“It just comes down to his interest level and his ability to commit,” Cashman says.
The boss erupts
In 2000, Cone had a largely dreadful year for the Yankees, beyond his high point of forcing Mike Piazza to pop out to end the fifth inning in Game 4 of the Subway Series. A natural next step for him seemed to be working for the start-up YES Network, which was going to launch in 2001.
Filippelli wanted Cone for YES, but Cone was going through a divorce and, of course, had thoughts about becoming a real estate or restaurant entrepreneur. He was not ready to fully commit.
Instead, Cone pitched for the Red Sox in 2001, faring decently with a 9-7 record and a 4.31 ERA and a 104 ERA-plus (4 percent better than league average) in 25 starts. After dabbling with YES in 2002, doing some studio work and not pitching that season, Cone was recruited by Al Leiter and John Franco to rejoin the Mets in 2003 and try one final comeback at age 40.
“That’s when George [Steinbrenner] called me, and he was pissed,” Cone says. “He said, ‘You should stay with the broadcasting. You told me you were done pitching.’ I was like, ‘George, your staff is loaded. You don’t need another pitcher. I have to get it out of my system.’ It probably took me three or four years to get back in good graces and get a job.”
Cone won his first game at Shea Stadium in 2003, throwing five shutout innings against the Expos. His hip then gave out (he had a cortisone shot, and today he has an arthritic hip for his troubles). Cone threw just 18 innings for the season and was done before June.
“That’s when the real panic started to set in,” Cone says.
By 2006 — with Cone still blowing in the post-playing wind and on the outs with The Boss — SNY wanted him. The network’s famed booth could have been “Gary, Keith and Dave” instead of Gary Cohen, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling. Cone, though, still was not ready to fully commit.
Meanwhile, Filippelli remained persistent in trying to lure him to YES, and eventually the Steinbrenner tension thawed. Cone rejoined YES in 2008, beginning his ascent as an MLB analyst. He is now a mainstay.
Filippelli, who has been in the business for nearly half a century and produced six World Series, puts Cone next to Tony Kubek as the best baseball analyst he has ever heard. Filippelli ranks Cone as No. 1 today.
“With total respect to a lot of really great people in our industry, David Cone is the best baseball analyst,” Filippelli says. “He’s totally fearless. He speaks his mind. He’s balanced. He brings all different viewpoints to this thing. He understands the game because he played it. Not only did he play it, he’s a student of it. He was in the forefront of baseball analytics and still is.”
For Cone, it is different than when he tried to quit playing, but you can hear in his voice both passion and apprehension when he talks about being back in uniform.
“Your whole life is based on being a baseball player,” Cone says. “It is a slap in the face when that is not there. It was something I thought I was ready for back then. There was just sort of panic back then. What am I going to do next? Where do I get that rush? Everything we talked about before.
“It is never going to be there. I get a taste of it here and there. Certain broadcasts. You had a nice game there. No scoreboard in broadcasting so we don’t know. It is so subjective.”
Cone has a 9-year-old son with his girlfriend, and he has a 60th birthday just around the corner. ESPN had some interest last year in teaming Cone as a co-analyst with Alex Rodriguez on Sunday nights. YES, of course, thinks the world of him.
But there is still that itch to get back in a dugout or a front office. He is close to the game, but you can tell he may want to be more directly involved with it again.
“It’s now or never,” Cone says.
This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Andrew Marchand