Thursday, July 16, 2020

Books: "Full Count" by Cone & Curry Now Available In Paperback

Full Count: The Education of a Pitcher
By David Cone and Jack Curry
Grand Central Publishing; paperback, $17.99

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.

Here's a look back on my conversations with David Cone and Jack Curry when the book was released last summer:


Jason Schott: How has pitching changed over the years, from when you pitched to now observing it as an announcer?

David Cone: There's certainly more power in the game, especially in the bullpens - they're so much more deeper and so much more power, so many more power arms in the bullpen. It impacts everything and the strike zone has kind of morphed back to what I think is more like a '70s up-and-down strike zone, as opposed to the '90s, which were more east and west. I think the strike zone's definitely different and the bullpens are much deeper...Definitely not eight relievers, much less that many power arms to go to. If you had one or two power arms to go to, you were well above average, and now it seems like a handful or more in every bullpen.

JS: What do you think of the "opener," where a reliever starts a game for an inning or two?

DC: I kind of like the strategy, you know, especially on the back end of some rotations where you have a young kid that you're kind of bringing along a little slower. I still think there's always room for the Max Scherzers and Justin Verlanders of the world. The elite starters will always present themselves, but it's not a bad strategy for somebody you don't want to go three times through the order, that's younger, maybe not as built up. I think it's an effective strategy.

JS: What were some of the differences pitching for the Mets and Yankees?

DC: Actually, there's more similarities than you would think, even though Mets and Yankees fans would disagree. Definitely a little more sense of entitlement with Yankees fans, for obvious reasons, and the Mets fans, there's less of a history there, but certainly no less passion.

JS: What was it like to play for Joe Torre and how much did he meant to that 1990s Yankees dynasty?

DC: He was the right guy at the right time, doing the right thing. He was so graceful under pressure. He got right in front of issues. He would go to the owner, George Steinbrenner, beforehand to circumvent any problems that potentially could have arisen. He was very comfortable in his own skin, you know, he was a great player, he was a manager for a long time, really good broadcaster, too, so he brought a lot of skills to the table and he was very comfortable with who he was.

JS: He knew how to manage your team, a lot of veteran guys that he never had to push hard. There was one moment you wrote about, when he came out to the mound to check that you were alright in Game 3 of the 1996 World Series.

DC: Yes, that was what made him so effective is, because, when he did have a team meeting or he did say something, it was that much more effective because you knew it meant something because it didn't happen all that often. He definitely let us police ourselves in the clubhouse, but when he needed to do something or say something, we listened.

JS: How satisfying was your return in 1996, after dealing with the aneurysm, when you had that big game on Labor Day in Oakland, when you threw seven no-hit innings?

DC: People ask me, that was definitely the most emotional game that I've ever been a part of, from a personal standpoint because I didn't know if I'd ever pitch again and that was the first game back. Then, getting taken out of that game after seven innings and the drama around that. My dad was in the stands that day, and he sat right over the dugout in the first row, so every time I walked off the mound between innings, I walked like right to him. Usually, the family section is up here away somewhere; it was the first time I'd ever made eye contact like that every inning with the man who taught me how to pitch, on that day, so that made it special.

JS: How special was closer Mariano Rivera to that team?

DC: I joke with Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz all the time, if you had Rivera, you'd have five rings now. The Braves were a great, great team for a lot of years and all those division championships, but they only got one World Series title, and they probably should have had more, and the reason is Mariano...Especially in postseason, they were snakebit by their bullpen issues and that was the difference...Even going back to 1992, when they had Jeff Reardon as their closer, when I was with the Blue Jays, so I faced them three different times in the World Series and it was always the bullpen.

JS: How special was that 1992 championship in Toronto, the first for the Blue Jays and the first non-hockey championship there. What similiarities did you see from your time there to how the city embraced the Raptors' run to the title this year?

DC: Yes, it's a once-in-a-lifetime or even a generational type thing for the fans. Canada's first in '92, kind of gets glossed over because of the '93 (title) and the Joe Carter "touch 'em all Joe" home run that was so dramatic, they kind of get lumped together, but the '92 team, the first, the whole country was galvanized, pretty special to be a part of.

JS: Dave Winfield had some big moments in that 1992 run, including his hit in the clincher in Atlanta.

DC: That was the Winfield moment, you know, people think of joe Carter with those teams, but it was really Winfield that got the game-winning hit in Game 6, and that was a huge moment for him personally and for the country.

JS: I was watching recently, the "30 For 30" on June 17, 1994, the day marked by the O.J. Simpson car chase, and you made a cameo in that pitching to Ken Griffey, Jr. What was it like to pitch that day?

DC: It was crazy, it was surreal, because after the game, and I got knocked around pretty good in that game, I think Ken Griffey, Jr. hit one in the fountain off of me, that was the one (in the documentary), that was a monster home run. After the game, that's all anybody wanted to do; even the postgame scrum with the beat writers, everybody's watching the TV, and I was like 'I didn't pitch so great, so this is OK,' but nobody could understand what was going on, it was so surreal, that low-speed chase that kept going on and on and we were like 'how is this going to end?' That was just incredible to watch, and shortly thereafter, we ended up having the strike and the season was over...It was a really weird time, '94 was a really weird year. That's a night you just never forget where you were or what you were doing, and watching that on television.


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 Count:  Because 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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