Former Yankees and Mets pitcher and current Yankees TV analyst David Cone throws some curverballs to Post columnist Steve Serby in a Q&A sessions days before the 20th anniversary of his perfect game.
Q: How did you celebrate the night of your perfect game against the Expos on July 18, 1999?
A: It was a long night in the city, that’s for sure. I remember being in a bar and a couple of cops came in with the morning newspapers and asked me to sign ’em. Then I had to get to City Hall pretty quickly, too. Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani gave me the key to the city that next day. I guess you say I played through. It’s hard to recollect everything that happened that night.
Q: So in other words, you received the key to the city hungover?
A: Not much sleep, yeah. A little bit of everything, yeah.
Q: I’m assuming you didn’t have to pay for a drink?
A: I don’t remember reaching into my wallet, that’s for sure.
Q: What was your beverage of choice?
A: Usually I’m a beer guy, and then whatever the shot of choice is. I remember having a few whiskey shots to go with the beer.
Q: If you had to sum up what enabled you to pitch your perfect game, how would you do it?
A: I think it was the perfect storm. It was a Montreal Expos lineup that had never faced me before. I had probably one of the best sliders I’ve ever had in my career that day, and they kept swinging at it, and I kept throwing ’em. It just seemed like the perfect matchup for me that day.
Q: How many times did you shake off catcher Joe Girardi?
A: There was actually one pitch the whole day that I shook him off. I actually threw a ball, so he was right and I was wrong.
Q: What inning was it?
A: It was actually the ninth inning, and Ryan McGuire was the second hitter as the pinch-hitter that inning. I threw a first-pitch fastball for a strike, and he called for a cutter in to the left-handed batter, and I shook him off. I wanted to throw another fastball to try to throw another strike, and I missed with it outside.
Q: After a certain number of innings, did he ignore you too in the dugout?
A: Oh yes, without a doubt. He would not even sit near me. He wouldn’t even look at me. He did everything he could to avoid me. People would walk by you and look down, or look away or walk the other way. It’s a very uneasy feeling. The whole baseball superstition. I really wasn’t a superstitious guy. I would have been fine if somebody wanted to talk to me.
Q: Did you feel like you were back at Conedelstick Park in your backyard?
A: In some ways, it felt like making a Wiffle ball move. I threw a lot of sliders that day, they were breaking as sharply as I probably ever had one break.
Q: You ended up on top of Girardi during the on-field celebration.
A: He pulled me down on top of him. I think when I dropped to my knees, he got to me first and kind of pulled me down on top of him. I think he thought he was trying to protect me from a dogpile or whatever was gonna happen.
Q: What were your emotions as your teammates carried you off and Yankees fans stood and cheered for you?
A: The first thing you feel is kind of relief that you didn’t blow it. There’s no way to rehearse for how you react in that situation. I didn’t know whether to stay on the field, tip my hat … how long do I stay out there, do I take a victory lap? All these things are going through your mind. You end up just kind of going with the flow. It really is kind of a surreal moment, and it goes by like a blur.
Q: Describe the night before your perfect game.
A: I don’t really remember anything specific. It wasn’t like David Wells, where I stayed out all night, that’s for sure. I just remember having an early dinner and then just going to bed.
Q: Getting up that morning.
A: I knew it was gonna be a really hot day that day, so making sure to get a lot of liquids in me and have a good breakfast.
Q: After watching Don Larsen throw the ceremonial first pitch to Yogi Berra, what do you remember was going through your mind knowing you were about to take the mound?
A: I think at that point, I had a real appreciation for those types of days at Yankee Stadium. I pitched on Joe DiMaggio Day when Paul Simon sang in center field. I pitched on the day that Mickey Mantle died. And I just knew that those kind of days at Yankee Stadium were just really unique and really special. It was a welcome distraction for me, because I wasn’t really even thinking about my game or what kind of stuff I had. I was pretty carefree going into that game.
Q: Have you watched clips of Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series?
A: I have, yes. I saw quite a bit of it when they found the original reels for his game. That game was televised.
Q: How long after your perfect game did you watch Larsen’s?
A: Probably a couple of years.
Q: What do you remember thinking as you watched it?
A: He was one of the first pitchers to not go a full windup, kind of an abbreviated windup that we see in today’s game a lot … how fast his delivery was and how quickly he worked. He just got rid of the ball very quickly.
Q: After the game you saw both of them, right?
A: I just saw Yogi briefly, but I remember being able to grab Don and give him a big bear hug and we took a picture together. It’s one of my favorite pictures after the game.
Q: What do you remember hearing from your family members?
A: There was a mad dash to try to get information on the game because they were in Kansas City at the time. I think my father was following along on the Internet at one point, but then ESPN broke in I think in the eighth or ninth inning so they actually did get to see the end of the game.
Q: What did your father tell you when you spoke to him?
A: Just how proud he was. He was my first coach. My dad’s the one who taught me how to pitch. It was obviously extremely emotional to be able to talk to him after a game like that.
Q: It was once written of Larsen: “The imperfect man pitched a perfect game.” That would also apply to you, right?
A: I made my share of mistakes along the way as well.
Q: What kind of guy was Yogi?
A: He was the type of guy that lit up a room when he walked in. Everybody knew who he was, he was so recognizable. Everybody wanted to just get a piece of him and touch him … more than anybody else. Everybody wanted to come over and talk to him and get him to say one of his Yogi-isms.
Q: Do you think the baseball is juiced?
A: I think the baseball’s changed, without a doubt. It’s definitely traveling farther, for a number of reasons, mainly due to the manufacturing of the ball. I think the question is why did it happen, and can you rectify it and get control of it?
Q: Could you have pitched your perfect game with this baseball?
A: I don’t know that there were any balls hit in my game that would have traveled farther that would have been a home run. There weren’t any warning-track shots that maybe would have carried farther, so I’m not sure that would be the case, although I have heard pitchers complain that the seams are lower, so I’m wondering about being able to spin sliders as effectively. It’s a valid point, I’m not sure.
Q: Imagine there are two outs in the top of the ninth and you’re pitching a perfect game. Who is the last hitter you would want to face in the history of MLB?
A: Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs were the toughest batters to get out. They could work a walk too as well, especially Boggs.
Q: How about way back in MLB history?
A: Ironically it would probably be Yogi, he was such a bad ball hitter. He was such a good hitter that I could throw him a really good slider out of the strike zone and he could probably still find a way to hit it.
Q: If you could pick the brain of one pitcher in MLB history, who would it be?
A: The guy I idolized growing up was Luis Tiant, so he would be right at the top of the list. Luis was so creative — I tried to copy his style a lot, sidearm sliders, changing arm angles.
Q: Game 3 of the 1996 World Series in Atlanta, bases loaded, one out, 2-0 lead, down 0-2 in the Series, Fred McGriff at bat. How much anxiety was that for you?
A: It’s tremendous anxiety, because you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. You have the responsibility of your teammates, and really the city of New York and every Yankee fan everywhere. You understand that if you don’t come through, you’re letting a lot of people down. I always felt that on the mound.
Q: What is your favorite Mets moment?
A: [An early] appearance with the Mets [in 1987] after getting traded from the Royals. I remember I struck out Jack Clark on a sidearm fastball that started at his hip and broke over the inside corner. And when they threw the ball around the infield, Keith Hernandez and Wally Backman were screaming at me about how much they loved that. That’s when Keith Hernandez dubbed my sidearm slider The Laredo. I just felt so welcomed at that point. After all those years with the Royals, it was a really conservative organization that didn’t really like me throwing sidearm sliders. And I was embraced, finally, for the first time in my career … I felt liberated.
Q: Do you feel for Jacob deGrom not getting any run support?
A: I do. I can’t help but feel for him, but I know that in today’s game that won-loss record isn’t as important as it once was.
Q: Is there a danger of a players’ strike?
A: I don’t know if we’re to that point. I think it’s a good thing that they’re talking already. I do know that there’s some major issues that need to be addressed. The changing of the economic system I think probably is something that’s gonna have to be talked about. Certainly free agency and service-time manipulation.
Q: What is the best practical joke you ever saw?
A: Roger McDowell put his uniform on upside down and went out on the dugout steps one time. … It looked like he was walking on his hands. It looked like he was doing a handstand but it was really just him standing straight up with his uniform on upside down.
Q: Describe allowing two Braves runs to score while arguing with first base umpire Charlie Williams in a 1990 game.
A: Right before I walked back to the mound, Charlie Williams said basically: “While you’re continuing to argue with me, the second run just scored.” I can laugh about it now, and every time I see Charlie Williams, we both kind of laugh at each other about that moment, but I’ll never forget him saying that to me as that moment unfolded.
Q: How did your relationship with Girardi differ from your relationship with other catchers?
A: He was so quick on his feet. And he was also so selfless. He never took anything personal. If there were disagreements, or if there were anything that happened in the heat of the battle, he understood that probably better than any catcher I’ve been around. And also was so quick with his signal-calling, especially with multiple signs and a man on second base. He was one of the best I’ve ever been around.
Q: If and when the Mets make a managerial change, would you see him fitting in with them?
A: I think he would be great. He’s got a great track record, no-nonsense, I think he could bring a lot to the organization without a doubt. He would command respect too, because of his track record. I think he would be great wherever he went.
Q: Which starting pitcher should Yankees GM Brian Cashman target before the trade deadline?
A: The wish list would be Max Scherzer, but he’s probably not gonna be available. [Madison] Bumgarner’s got a great track record, depending on what the price tag is for Cashman. Marcus Stroman’s a great pitcher, too. There’s Max Scherzer and there’s everybody else right now.
Q: Describe James Paxton.
A: He’s shown enough to me that he could be a really good starter for the Yankees. When he’s healthy and his knee is healthy, you can really tell the ball jumps out of his hand, and his stuff is immeasurably better when he’s feeling healthy. I think that’s the key with him, more so than adjustment to New York.
Q: J.A. Happ.
A: He really relies on control and being able to spot his pitches much more now than he was before. The one thing with him obviously is just keeping the ball in the ballpark. That’s the one thing that you always worry about is … flyball pitchers tend to give up more home runs when the ball’s traveling farther.
Q: Masahiro Tanaka.
A: I really think Tanaka’s underrated. The bar was set so high when he first came over from Japan and people expected him to be all-world. He’s top-10, top-15. That’s pretty darn good in my book.
Q: You would have no problem if he pitched Game 1 of a postseason series?
A: I absolutely would have confidence in him. He’s a very accountable pitcher. He takes a lot of pride and he understands the responsibility that goes with pitching big games. That’s why his postseason record is very good.
Q: Why is CC Sabathia so loved?
A: He’s a leader in that clubhouse, and very generous with his time with younger pitchers. I think there’s a real appreciation for how he has had to kind of reinvent himself from a power pitcher to more of a finesse pitcher, and battle through injuries, and keep going and keep grinding. I think that has really endeared him not only to his teammates but to the fan base. I think he’s gonna be one of the great, popular Yankee pitchers of all time. He’ll be greeted warmly whenever he decides to do his OldTimers’ Day debut.
Q: Adam Ottavino.
A: I think he’s been really good. I also think that he’s got more to give. His stuff moves so much, his pitches move so much that sometimes it’s hard to control them. I think he will do better at that in the second half of the season.
Q: Why didn’t you become a manager or pitching coach?
A: It takes a big commitment, it really does. I’ve had a chance for a couple of big league pitching coach jobs, but I just wasn’t ready to make that full commitment at that time, and I really enjoy broadcasting right now. So for me, the timing just hasn’t been right.
Q: What are your thoughts on Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen throwing a chair during a postgame meeting with Mickey Callaway and his coaches?
A: It sounds like it’s old-school to me (laugh). Those are the type of stories we used to hear all the time but you don’t hear much about anymore. I saw Hal McRae as manager of the Royals come in and overturn the table with all the food on it, the postgame food spread. We had lost a tough game and didn’t play very well, and he thought that we didn’t deserve to eat. Nothing but food on the floor when we walked in after the game.
Q: Which radio interviews did you enjoy doing more: Don Imus or Howard Stern?
A: Imus was somebody you really had to be on guard with because he was just so smart. Howard was a little more predictable, you kind of knew where he was going or what he was trying to do. They both were in a class by themselves. They both were legends. They both were incredibly intimidating to do interviews with.
Q: You’ve won four New York Emmy awards as Yankees analyst on YES.
A: It keeps me in the game, and it allows me to kind of talk about what I love, especially when there’s a good pitching matchup going on during a broadcast. I feel like that’s something that’s right in my wheelhouse. Or vice versa, when things are not going so well, I can maybe tell you something you don’t know.
Q: Three dinner guests?
A: Babe Ruth, Harry Truman, Dean Martin
Q: Favorite movies?
A: “Shawshank Redemption,” the “Terminator” movies.
Q: Favorite actor?
A: Harvey Keitel.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Susan Sarandon.
Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?
Q: Favorite meal?
A: Meat and potatoes.
Q: What do you think of the World Cup champion U.S. women’s soccer team.
A: I think they’re fantastic. I think they’re one of the greatest teams of all time, without a doubt. They are great champions. They backed it up. They’ve had a dynastic-type run.
Q: Equal pay?
A: I think they deserve anything that they get, without a doubt. I think they’ve earned it. They should get whatever they can get.
Q: What is it you’re most proud of about your book, “ Full Count: The Education of a Pitcher” with Jack Curry?
A: It shows the human side of what pitchers go through. The vulnerable side … a lot of self-doubt. I think also the relationship with a catcher I think probably is one of the best chapters in the book.
Q: When you walk around New York City, what do you hear from fans?
A: It really is humbling how time marches on, and that there’s a whole new younger generation that probably knows me better as a broadcaster than a player. There are kids now that were 4 or 5 years old that barely remember that game that are big-time Yankee fans. And there are kids that just weren’t born that are big-time Yankee fans that have to go to YouTube to see highlights.
Q: What was your reaction when you were traded to the Yankees?
A: I was elated. I was just hoping that that was the place I was gonna be traded to. At the time I was on the Blue Jays in 1995, and the president, Paul Beeston, called George Steinbrenner directly and worked out a trade, and I think it was a direct favor to me because I had a good relationship with Paul Beeston, and he knew I wanted to go play in New York again, and the Yankees were the team. I’ll forever be thankful for that.
Q: Which of your five World Series championships was the sweetest for you?
A: ’96 without a doubt. We were the underdogs, we kind of stole one from the Braves. I had an aneurysm, came back and pitched in a World Series. I didn’t know if I could ever pitch again. … Joe Torre’s brother Frank Torre, had a heart transplant in the middle of the World Series. … His other brother Rocco passed away shortly before that … several players had lost their fathers or somebody close to them. There were a lot of human-interest stories that made that victory so much more sweeter.
Q: How hard it is to believe that it’s been 20 years since your perfect game?
A: It’s a blur, that’s for sure. It feels like 20 years though, I’ll tell you that.