Full Count by David Cone

Metscellaneous: Joey Wahler On The Mets -- Cone’s Book Calls Darling, Hernandez Strong Met Influences

May 14, 2019 - 8:17 am
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By Joey Wahler

After pitching parts of seven years with the Mets and six as a Yankee, David Cone is seen in pinstripes on the cover of his new book, Full Count: The Education of a Pitcher.

So why Yanks over Mets? It’s partly, Cone says, because he’s a Yankee game analyst for the YES Network, where his co-author, Jack Curry, is a Bomber studio commentator. Plus being pictured as a Yankee just has a greater, uh, ring to it.

“I threw a perfect game with the Yankees, and there was four World Series titles out of (my first) five years with the Yankees,” said Cone, 56. “So I kind of deferred in that department.”

Acquired in a 1987 Met heist from the Royals for backup catcher Ed Hearn, Cone admits being unsure at first whether he could handle New York. His book recounts veteran lefty Bob Ojeda confronting him, saying, “Hey rookie, you sucked tonight. You looked scared,” providing a turning point.

“I definitely got some tough love from Bobby Ojeda early in my career, and I used it as motivation, I really did,” Cone said.

Compiling an 81-51 Met record, Cone’s first year in Flushing was his career best, 20-3, 2.22 ERA and 213 strikeouts. The hard throwing righty was the National League strikeout leader in 1990 (233) and ’91 (241).

Feeding off a popular, recurring Saturday Night Live skit, Andrew Levy started a group of fans wearing Coneheads at Shea Stadium when Cone pitched. Levy has become Cone’s friend and business associate.

“It was just incredible,” Cone said of Shea’s Conehead craze. “It just lit me up on the mound to be part of that scenery at Shea Stadium back in the 80s.”

Two of Cone’s profound Met influences were pitcher Ron Darling and first baseman Keith Hernandez, both seen on Met telecasts for SportsNet New York. Thus, all three men are local analysts.

“We kind of laugh about that when we see each other,” Cone said. “We’ve even talked about maybe flipping booths for an inning here or there, from SNY to the YES Network. But we’ve never been able to kick that up the flagpole to the powers that be as of yet.”

Since Darling’s recent thyroid cancer diagnosis, Cone says he has texted with the man who taught him much about pitching and adjusting to the Big Apple. Cone’s book recalls Darling’s sage fashion advice: “A blue blazer goes with everything,” great preparation for the team charter flight dress code.

“I did not own a sport coat or a suit for that matter,” Cone said. “I really didn’t have a clue on how to act or how to look the part, so to speak. Ronnie definitely saw a naïve young rookie, and he kind of took me under his wing and showed me the ropes a little bit. He actually bought me a navy blue blazer and showed me how to mix and match, and how I could stretch that into many different outfits.”

Late Met pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre was a mentor to Cone, who often learned by watching Darling.

“I just noticed that he never seemed to panic when the tough innings came,” Cone said of Darling. “That was a big influence on me, not only talking to him about his thought process, but also just observing how he handled jams, and how he handled days when he didn’t have his good stuff.”

Now calling it “a huge regret,” Cone was a New York Daily News guest columnist before his first 1988 National League Championship Series start, appearing critical of Dodger pitchers Orel Hershiser and Jay Howell.

“I just flat out choked because I was so nervous because of that newspaper article,” Cone said. “And all of the ramifications of that, and understanding that I had made a big mistake. And that I had provided a rallying cry for the Dodgers.”

Rocked in a 6-3, Game 2 loss, Cone rebounded by winning 5-1, pitching nine innings in Game Six. “You did it! You’re a man now,” Hernandez told Cone, according to his book.

“Keith Hernandez was just the best teammate during the games that I’ve ever been around,” said Cone. “He was so encouraging, so uplifting. So teaching and nurturing as well. He would come to the mound and not only pump me up and give me advice, but he would also tell me what pitches to throw at times. And what the hitters’ weaknesses were. It was really remarkable to be challenged like that.”

Those Dodgers upset the Mets in seven games.

“That was a devastating loss in 1988,” Cone said. “We felt like we let one get away. That was a huge loss for that franchise, for all of us. And I’m not sure we ever recovered from it.”

The extracurricular activities of those 80s Mets are well documented.

“You have to be accountable for some of the off the field stuff that potentially could’ve hurt our performance at certain times during that run,” Cone said. “I think we all have to feel that we’re disappointed that that team could’ve done more, or should’ve done more.”

A pending free agent in 1992, Cone was traded to the Blue Jays, who won their first World Series that fall.

“I was devastated when the Mets traded me,” Cone said. “At the time, boy I was just crushed. I really loved playing for the Mets.”

Curry drew much honesty from him, Cone says.

“From temper tantrums to the pitcher-catcher relationship,” Cone said. “I think it’s a refreshingly honest journey that kind of covers everything. The good, the bad and the ugly. It’s just refreshingly honest to see that kind of a take. Admit my mistakes, and then also tell some stories along the way that maybe you hadn’t heard before.”