05/30/2003 2:28 PM ET
Cone calls it a career
Righty earned five Series rings, hurled perfect game
NEW YORK -- It was difficult not to picture that sunny February morning in Port St. Lucie when David Cone trotted out to the back mound of the Thomas J. White complex, pulled off his black Mets windbreaker and fired off 34 pitches alongside a group of hopefuls.
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
Cone beamed that morning, excited to be back on the field, eager to prove he still belonged. As he spoke of what might be and the dreams he had for the upcoming season, the recurring thought that kept creeping into the discussion was how long could this magic carpet ride he was taking last.
Well, the trip, short and mostly unremarkable, came to a grinding halt this week in Philadelphia with Cone officially acknowledging the end Friday afternoon when he announced his retirement. He addressed the media in the bowels of Shea Stadium; wearing a smart gray suit and not the crisp white and black uniform the Mets would wear later in the evening in the series opener against Atlanta.
Cone, 40, looking calm and relaxed alongside his wife, Lynn, showed little emotion in calling it quits. There were no tears, no cracking of the voice and most of all, no sign of regret. He came into this venture with Mets knowing it was a crap shoot, finally throwing a pair of snake eyes on Wednesday night in Philly when his arthritic left hip told him it was time to quit.
"I've been struggling with this for a while," Cone said of his problematic hip, which landed him on the disabled list on April 22. "[During rehab] I came to grips with the idea that I couldn't hold up as a starter anymore. Then, after pitching Wednesday night, I woke up pretty sore the next morning. After all these years and all the miles on my arm, I never thought it would be my hip.
"But I have to be honest with myself and with the organization. I can't do it physically anymore. I came to realize it after I pitched two innings the other day and then got out of bed and limped to the bathroom. I said that this isn't going to work, not only for me but for the Mets as well. They need someone who will be able to hold up."
Ironically enough, Cone's retirement cleared a roster spot for John Franco, the 42-year-old Mets' captain who was activated off the disabled list on Friday.
"I would have liked the opportunity to pitch together," said Franco, who along with Al Leiter, helped push Cone and the Mets to the altar this winter, urging their longtime friend to call the club and ask for one more chance to pitch. "I feel sad. I would've liked to pitch on the same team with him again but his body didn't hold up."
Cone spoke with Mets COO Jeff Wilpon on Thursday night, informing him of his decision. Wilpon told him to sleep on it because once he made such a move there would be no turning back. Cone didn't have to think twice.
"We had an inkling that he was hurt," Wilpon said. "But this decision was up to him."
So Cone ended his 17-year career that spanned three decades and earned him five World Series rings as well as the 1994 Cy Young Award. He finished his career with a 194-126 mark with 81 of those victories coming for the Mets. Cone was 1-3 this year with a 6.50 ERA in five games, four of which were starts.
Though he made the starting rotation out of Spring Training, even pitching five shutout innings of two-hit ball against Montreal in his first start, it quickly became obvious that Cone didn't have the length or the strength required to stay there. He had a 6.75 ERA over four starts, pitching only 16 innings, the last two of which came on April 22 in a laborious effort against the Astros.
"There is some relief there," Cone said of his decision. "I'm very thankful to the Mets for allowing me to do this properly as opposed to last year when I kind of just faded away. I made the team when a lot of people didn't think that was possible."
What Cone does now remains unclear. The Mets have offered him a position in the organization but neither side was ready to sit down and make such a move official on Friday.
"Whatever I do I'm extremely thankful to the Mets," Cone said "They've shown me tremendous respect. I couldn't ask for anything more. I've looked at my career as a New Yorker. I've spent the majority of my career here. There is no getting around the fact that I won four titles with the Yankees but I also had six good years here and I was able to come back here.
"I grew up here. I won 20 games as a Met and President Nixon was there to shake my hand in the dugout when I came off the field. I learned a lot of hard lessons on and off the field as a Met."
The last of which was knowing when to call it a career.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.