Monday, May 13, 2019

Books: David Cone's "Full Count"

Full Count: The Education of a Pitcher
By David Cone and Jack Curry
Grand Central Publishing; hardcover, $28; E-book, $14.99; downloadable audiobook, $25.98 - available Tuesday, May 14

David Cone, a five-time All-Star and a five-time World Champion, is a New York baseball legend, and he tells his story in the entertaining new book, Full Count: The Education of a Pitcher.

Cone's career spanned two memorable periods in New York baseball history - the exhilarating, never-boring Mets of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the Yankees dynasty in the late 1990s, which won four World Championships in five seasons. He currently calls Yankees games on the YES Network.

Cone is known as a competitor, a "smart" pitcher who was a master of deception, understands the game inside and out, and a clubhouse guy who was usually a part of the hijinks.

Full Count takes readers inside Cone's mind, as he discusses in vivid detail how the strategies he would use, how he would approach the game, what pitchers he studied, and the hitters who infuriated him.

Cone writes about one of the most important wins he ever had, the third game of the 1996 World Series, "I was submerged in my own unfriendly world in a corner of the third base dugout on October 22, 1996, a focused pitcher obsessed with throwing the baseball as efficiently as I could for as long as I could. Between innings, my thought process was always about how I could execute to get the next three outs. I didn't want to talk to my catcher, my pitching coach, or my manager because any conversations could mushroom into distractions.
"On this night in Atlanta, I felt even more isolated because of our dire situation. After losing the first two games of the World Series by a combined score of 16-1, we needed to change the narrative that we were simply props to the mighty Braves. The clubhouse walls can be thin and some spies told us that the Braves were celebrating and talking about building a dynasty after they won Game 2 at Yankee Stadium. When I was told about this clubhouse scene, I saw an opening to use that as motivation for us.
"'Hey, they're embarrassing us,' I told my teammates. 'Where's our pride? We are being taken advantage of. Let's stand up for ourselves.'..
"I had navigated through five shutout innings, even though my arm and my body never felt quite comfortable. It was one of those games where I had to grind, not glide, through innings, my pitches fluctuating from good to decent to not so good. But those are the games where a pitcher needs to be creative and determined and, with the baseball still entrusted to me, I persevered and tried to hang on to our 2-0 lead.
"Actually, I was grateful to even be pitching, grateful to be feeling that combination of excitement and fear after having an aneurysm removed from under my right armpit in May. I missed four months while recovering from the surgery, a stretch that included many hopeless nights in which I wondered if my career might be over.
"Fortunately, I made it all the way back to pitch in the World Series. So, in Game 3, my mind was centered on the moment and on pitching carefully, even if that meant meandering through lengthy at bats to eventually throw the pitches I wanted to throw. I was maniacal about not throwing pitches over the middle of the plate, so I pelted the corners of the strike zone, repeatedly chasing calls on the edges.
"Even when I fell behind in counts, I was stubborn and confident, believing I could make pitches on the edges for quality strikes. Nor just strikes, but quality strikes. That's the important distinction between being a pitcher with command and a pitcher with control. A pitcher who has control can throw down-the-middle strikes, but a pitcher who has command can throw quality strikes, those pitcher's pitches that are as sharp as razor blades and can clip a sliver of the strike zone."

Full Count is filled with never never-before-told stories from the memorable teams Cone played on, and incredible stories about Derek Jeter, Darryl Strawberry, David Wells, Andy Pettitte, Joe Torre, 
and more.

Some of the highlights include how Cone goes into his meltdowns on the mound in the 1995 ALDS and 1988 NLCS; what Red Sox fans yell at you in the bullpen at Fenway Park; throwing Joe Girardi our of his bullpen before a game; how he begged Gaylord Perry to teach him the spitball, and how Perry wouldn't do it, but did teach Cone some other important lessons about balance, hiding the baseball, and protecting his arm; how, in the midst of a dreadful 2000 season, Cone was banished by the Yankees to Tampa Bay to try and fix himself, then almost quit and told the Yankees to release him, and for the first time in 20 years, he watched a replay of his perfect game from July 18, 1999 and gives a pitch-by-pitch reflection on what happened that day.

Cone collaborated on the book with Jack Curry, an award-winning sports journalist who has been an analyst on the Yankees' pre-game and post-game shows on the YES Network since 2010. Prior to that, he covered baseball for 20 years for the New York Times as a Yankees beat writer and national baseball correspondent.

My conversation with Jack Curry:

On covering David Cone as a player and then working with him at YES: When I was a baseball reporter for The New York Times, I often told people that David Cone was one of my favorite people to cover. This was because of the creative and manic way that he operated on the mound. There was nothing cookie-cutter about the way David pitched and that intrigued me. Different arm angles, different grips, different facial expressions. You could see how much the wheels were turning in his mind as he pitched. And, after the game, David was a reporter’s dream because he would break down every element of his start and, for instance, explain why he threw a splitter instead of a slider in a certain situation. By watching David and listening to David and asking the right questions, I learned a ton about pitching. Once I began working with David at YES, it was a very smooth transition to work together during some studio shows and some games. To me, David is a pitching genius and is a shrewd student of the game, which is what makes Full Count: The Education Of A Pitcher such an enjoyable read for fans.

On deciding on the collaboration for Full CountBecause I had always viewed David as the most creative and intelligent pitcher I had ever covered, I was always interested in the notion of doing a book with him. My hope was to crawl inside his mind and find out what it was like when he was on the mound and how a pitcher can have so much doubt and can be so desperate. One day, I approached David in the back of the press box at Yankee Stadium and pitched the book idea to him. He was sipping a cup of coffee and leaning against a wall. After I finished my pitch, he said, “Let’s do it.” So that’s how Full Count was born.

On what made the late 1990s Yankees dynasty so special: We dig into the late 90s Yankees with two chapters in Full Count and David described those teams better than I ever could. Obviously, those teams had a lot of talent. It’s foolish to talk about chemistry unless a team has a lot of talent and those teams were talented. The 1996 team was special because the Braves were the defending champions and had a 2-0 lead in the series and were probably the better team. But Cone won Game 3 and that gave the Yankees a boost and they swiped that series. When the Yankees won in 1998, 1999 and 2000, I think there was, again, a lot of talent, but there was also a feeling of intimidation whenever those teams played. I referred to the 1998 Yankees as gentlemanly bullies. They reveled in kicking you in the face. But, getting back to what I started to say at the beginning of the answer, David felt there was a trust factor among those players because they had “been there, done that” and they didn’t fret in chaotic or pressure situations. And no recollection of those teams is complete without saying this: Mariano Rivera gave the Yankees a gigantic bullpen edge over everyone else.

Favorite moments from that era: As a reporter who is covering the moment or moments, it’s not always easy to take a breath and say, “Wow, this is cool." You’re on deadline and you’re trying to produce the best possible story. With that being said, I remember covering Game 6 of the 1996 World Series and I remember how the press box was shaking when Girardi tripled off Maddux. The Stadium went nuts and the fans were so wild that the press box felt like it was going to tumble into the stands. That was pretty amazing.

On Cone’s legacy on the mound:  David Cone has an amazing Yankee legacy as one of their unquestioned leaders and as a pitcher who was as tough and as talented as anyone from that time period. When I’ve asked Cone’s Yankee teammates about him, the answers I generally get are, “He never quit. He just kept pushing,” or “He was as tough as anyone I’ve ever seen. He never wanted to give up the ball.” We cover a lot about David’s Yankee career and his passion for pitching in the book, but, suffice to say, his teammates loved it when he was on the mound. And, once he was on the mound, it was going to take a bulldozer to get him off the mound, even if he had to throw 147 pitches in a playoff game. David was a one-of-a-kind pitcher and I think we illustrate that in Full Count.

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