A Pitcher’s Story:
Innings with David Cone
By Roger Angell
New York: Warner Books Inc., 2001

David Cone is an associate member of the Red Sox this year. At least I see his name on the stat sheets. I went to see David Cone pitch early this season, and it was a painful experience. His control was lousy, and he looked as if he were undergoing hemorrhoid surgery. Everyone was thankful when the manager came and took him away. It looked like we were watching the death throes of an eventful career, a guy who just wasn’t listening to what his arm was trying to tell him.

Surprisingly enough, Cone got better, and for awhile  -- with Pedro out -- he was the Red Sox’ most effective pitcher, with some very nasty breaking stuff that leaves batters frozen. We discovered that even when Cone is winning, he still looks like he is having hemorrhoid surgery. That’s just the way he looks on the mound, face all drawn tight with sunken eyes and grim lips shut tight. The Boston writers like him, and call him “one of the good guys”, which is their term for a player who picks up a check at the hotel coffee shop.

Cone will need to pitch another year to get to 200 victories. He won the Cy Young award once (in strike-shortened 1994), and was twice a 20-game winner. His chief claim to fame is five World Series rings, with a Fall Classic? track record of 2-0, 2.12. He’s not quite Hall of Fame material, even though he spent six years with the Mets and six with the Yankees.
Roger Angell, fiction editor for The New Yorker, has been writing baseball non-fiction for that once-distinguished magazine since 1962. His first collection of essays, The Summer Game, is a baseball classic, combining literary craftsmanship with a keen observation of the sport to produce memorable images. Through the years Mr. Angell, while covering the whole sport, showed a sympathetic partiality to the New York Mets. This was understandable, for he was there when the comical team was born – Casey Stengel, Polo Grounds, Marv Throneberry, and all that. However, in recent years Angell has also become a Yankee fan, and has apparently lost the ability to see the world beyond the George Washington Bridge.

Why he picked David Cone to write a book about, I couldn’t tell you. “Cone has agreed, for his own reasons, to let me hang around with him during the current season.” As it turned out, Cone had a really lousy season with the Yankees in 2000: 4-14, 6.91. Angell intended to write a Study of Excellence, but instead it’s a Portrait of Failure. New York fans saw Cone’s season as a heart-rending tragedy; while the rest of us saw it as the typical fate of an aging baseball pitcher, prolonged unnecessarily by an over-indulgent manager.

Perhaps because the baseball part was such a bust, Angell spends time writing about David Cone the person. The book’s dust jacket claims that Cone, besides being an awfully good pitcher, is “a poised, highly intelligent spokesman for baseball itself.” Of course, there are a few episodes in the past to clear up...

There were those cocaine days in Kansas City; four Royals went to jail in the early 80’s coke scare: Willie Wilson, Jerry Martin, Willie Mays Aikens, and Vida Blue. Young Cone was in there snortin’, too. But, he tells Angell, “Drugs were different back then… Nobody made anything of it the way they do now – it was like a picnic.”

Cone reached stardom with the Mets, who were, writes Angell, “notorious as well as successful, heavy drinkers and party-goers, prone to babes and drugs (at least some of them).” On a road trip in 1991 Cone received a call from GM Frank Cashen warning him that he was about to be charged with rape by the woman he’s spent the previous night with. David went out on the mound and struck out 19 Phillies. He felt that as long as stayed on the mound, the police couldn’t come out and arrest him. Charges were later dropped. In New York three women brought a sexual harassment case against Cone; they claimed among other things, that he had exposed himself to them in the bullpen and masturbated. Two of the women dropped the charge, and the third settled out of court. In Port Lucie a woman charged three other Mets – Doc Gooden, Vince Coleman, and Daryl Boston -- with rape. When testimony was made public, it was revealed that the woman had been dating David Cone and that they’d engaged in a menage a trois – news that upset Cone’s fiancée back in New York.

Then there was the newspaper column he wrote which attacked a pitcher on the Dodgers, and made the Dodgers so mad they whupped him in a playoff game. Well, a ghostwriter was actually writing the column. David did say those things, but he never actually read his own column, and the ghostwriter should have checked with him first before allowing the story to go to print. You know how the media likes these controversies.

Some folks still chuckle about the time he got into an argument with the first base umpire, while still holding the baseball, and forget to ask for time out. Two Braves circled the bases and scored while Cone ranted and raved. It made a hilarious video clip.

So he’s a little neurotic; who can blame him? He’s under a lot of pressure. He’s a chain-smoking insomniac who takes a lot of sleeping pills. Oh yes, the “intelligent spokesman for baseball itself.” Apparently that’s a reference to the baseball strike of 1994, when Cone was the American League player representative. We remember David Cone and Tommy Glavine dressed up like attorneys, going down to Washington with their briefcases to testify. Angell quotes one the Players Association lawyers who “thinks back to the fun of it all, as well as the hard work.” Like that big Washington party that the striking players threw for the Congressmen, who all wanted autographs. What a gas! Yes, the strike was a barrel of laughs for us baseball fans, too.
If you wade through all this, you can learn how David Cone became a Yankee and was transformed into an inspirational leader…

Reviewed by David Nevard (2001)