David Cone, the Met pitcher and aspiring sportswriter, may never win a Pulitzer Prize, but he has already found his audience.
Cone is writing a guest column for the New York Daily News, and a copy of his latest effort was posted in the Dodger clubhouse Wednesday afternoon. Did the Dodgers like his sparkling syntax? His clever metaphors and snappy one-liners?
No. They hated his comments about Dodger pitchers Orel Hershiser and Jay Howell in the wake of the Mets’ 3-2 win in Game 1.
“Ever heard the saying, ‘Better to be lucky than good’?” Cone asked in his opening paragraph. “Trash it, because Hershiser was lucky, Doc (Gooden) was good.”
He was just warming up.
“I’ll tell you a secret: As soon as we got Orel out of the game, we knew we’d beat the Dodgers,” Cone continued. “Knew it even after Jay Howell had struck out HoJo (Howard Johnson). We saw Howell throwing curveball after curveball and we were thinking: ‘This is the Dodgers’ idea of a stopper?’ Our idea is Randy (Myers), a guy who can blow you away with his heat. Seeing Howell and his curveball reminded us of a high school pitcher.”
Stop the presses. To the Dodgers, Cone was guilty of yellow journalism.
“Those are some pretty cocky statements from someone who hasn’t been in baseball very long,” Rick Dempsey, 39, said of Cone, 25.
“You can tell his success has gone to his mouth a little bit. When you put down your peers like that, all you can do is create animosity.
“His day will come. He’s going to hit the ground. He’s going down hard.”
Perhaps Dempsey should have his own horoscope column in the newspaper, because Cone’s comedown came quicker than even the Dodgers imagined. Two innings into Game 2, Cone was gone, driven from the mound by 5 Dodger runs, including 4 in the second inning.
It was the shortest outing of the season for Cone, who had a 20-3 record, including 2 wins over the Dodgers in as many starts.
Cone, who figures to finish in the top 3 in Cy Young Award voting, had averaged 8 innings a start in his last dozen games and had gone 10-1 in that span. The 8 starters in the Dodger lineup had a combined average of .179 against the right-hander coming into the game.
Wednesday night, however, was nothing to write home about. The Daily News would have been better off running a picture . . . of Mickey Hatcher, who walked and scored the Dodgers’ first run, and doubled home two more.
Three times in the span of five batters in the second inning, the Mets felt compelled to pay Cone a visit on the mound. Twice, first baseman Keith Hernandez dropped by; pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre also came out. It’s doubtful they were making headline suggestions.
If Hershiser and Howell were inclined to fire back, they suppressed the urge to do so publicly. Either that, or they were saving their responses for their own columns.
“Jay,” Hershiser admonished Howell, “you don’t want to get in a battle of intelligence with a man who is unarmed.”
For his part, Howell wondered about Cone’s choice of adjectives in describing Hershiser.
“Yeah, I think anybody who’s pitched 59 scoreless innings and won 23 games has got to be lucky,” Howell said dryly. “I don’t want to get into that, but I guess if you’ve won 20 games, you’re a resident expert.”
There was always the possibility, of course, that Cone--whose previous journalistic experience came on his high school newspaper, the Rockhurst (Mo.) Register, was the innocent victim of New York tabloid tactics.
Indeed, Cone didn’t actually type the purple prose into the computer himself. He had a ghost writer, Bob Klapisch, the Daily News’ regular Met reporter. But Klapisch, after huddling with Cone for a private chat in the Met dugout, insisted that while some of Cone’s copy was not Cone’s creation, the controversial passages had come “word for word” from Cone’s mouth.
After Wednesday night’s game, Cone said his comments were intended facetiously.
“First of all, I don’t think the column had an effect on the game,” Cone said. “It didn’t make balls go through holes.
“To clear the record, the comments that I made were said facetiously and they were said after a very emotional game. To belittle an outstanding pitcher like Jay Howell was not my intent.
“I do not plan to run and hide. I accept total responsibility for making those comments, but I did not intend to offend.
“It was a lack of communication on my part and Bob Klapisch’s part . . . I don’t think there is anything I can say to justify what was written in the paper.”
Cone said, however, that he still planned to write again Wednesday night.
Asked the subject, he said: “I’m still considering it.”
Was Cone sure he still wanted to be a sportswriter?
“This definitely sheds new light on it,” he said.
Times staff writers Sam McManis and Ross Newhan contributed to this story.