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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : Cone Winds Up Eating His Words : Met Pitcher Apologizes; Career as a Columnist Is Over

Times Staff Writer

The summit at Shea Stadium took place in a corridor outside the Dodger clubhouse early Friday night. It was not the most private of spots, but then, this had not been a private feud.

David Cone, the New York Mets pitcher and erstwhile newspaper columnist whose derogatory statements about Dodger pitchers Orel Hershiser and Jay Howell after Game 1 of the National League championship series caused such a fuss, approached Howell to apologize for what he had written.

For about 5 minutes, the players spoke in hushed tones, Cone occasionally shaking his head and waving his arms. Then, Howell met with Bob Klapisch, the New York Daily News reporter who was the ghostwriter of Cone’s column.

After Cone finished with Howell, he bumped into Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda near the dugout and apologized to him, too. He missed talking to Hershiser, sequestered in the clubhouse.

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Howell said that Cone told him that his comments, which he dictated to Klapisch after Game 1, were meant facetiously. Cone told Howell that referring to Howell’s curveball as that of a “high school pitcher” was sarcasm originally meant to be a compliment.

“He just walked over and then said he was sorry,” said Howell, the losing pitcher in Game 1 after giving up a bloop double to Gary Carter. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s over with. He just made a mistake. I told him that.

“I accepted his apology, but I told him it was tough for me to have to listen to it.”

Howell, the Dodgers’ most reliable relief pitcher, said he had trouble enough dealing with losing the Dodgers’ 2-1 lead Tuesday night even before receiving a copy of Cone’s column published Wednesday. He was angry before and after Wednesday’s Dodger win, and he did not seem placated after Cone’s apology.

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“It’s unlikely to be forgotten,” Howell said. “I told him that. It’s going to be brought up for the rest of this series. Nobody likes to get a tough loss rubbed in your face.”

Cone said he decided to stop writing the column, for which he was paid an undisclosed amount, on the advice of Met management and veteran players.

His last column ran in Friday’s editions of the Daily News under the headline: “A Forlorn Correspondent.” It was the only column that Cone actually wrote and did not dictate to Klapisch.

An excerpt of his farewell prose: “My intention was to write out of respect for the newspaper business. I felt this opportunity would be an easy way to get my feet wet. Well, I got ‘em wet all right--with 100-pound cement blocks attached to them . . . What a lousy way to start the playoffs after a storybook season. Sorry, Mom, can I still come home for supper?”

Lasorda said he appreciated Cone’s apology.

“He’s a good kid,” Lasorda said. “It’s a nice talk. He didn’t do it intentionally. It got mixed up.”

Asked to comment on Cone’s resignation as a columnist, Howell said: “Given the circumstances, I think he did the right thing. In his column and to me personally, he apologized. That’s it.”

Frank Cashen, the Mets’ general manager and a former sportswriter, said he discouraged Cone from continuing to write the column only after Cone asked his advice. “There was no gag order,” Cashen said. “David and I spoke, but it was he who sought me out, not the other way around. . . . “

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Said Met Manager Davey Johnson: “I think this whole thing hurt David more than it helped the Dodgers. People are always going to say things, even if they don’t write it in a column. You can’t put a muzzle on them. As far as putting a ban on them, I don’t think it’ll help.

“It really can affect the outcome of a ballgame. Certainly, the wires were burning after that (column). I’m sure Tommy (Lasorda) had all the (newspapers) as soon as he got into town.”

Talk of a Met-Dodger rivalry, fueled by a back-page, red-ink New York Post headline reading “Blood Feud,” was minimized by both managers despite verbal jabs from the benches during the first two games.

Met players reportedly exercised their best bench-jockeying techniques during their ninth-inning comeback in Game 1, and the Dodgers apparently verbally lambasted Cone from the dugout during Game 2 Wednesday.

“What goes on in our dugout is confidential,” Lasorda said, laughing.

Asked about a rivalry between the teams, Lasorda said: “I feel there has never been a bitter rivalry between the Dodgers and the Mets. I’ve always had a lot of respect for those guys. Our club has always felt that way. Their organization is run by great people.”

Added Hershiser: “Before the league championship series, there wasn’t a whole lot to rival about. I don’t see any bad blood at all, just two teams trying to win the pennant.”

In a way, the Cone controversy has taken pressure off Met right fielder Darryl Strawberry, who caused a stir when he said he would like to play for the Dodgers once his contract expires.

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“I’m sure something else will come up before this is over,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of opinionated players.”


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