By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (June 29, 2019) — Longtime MLB reporter Jack Curry, who penned the 2000 New York Times best-seller “The Life You Imagine: Life Lessons for Achieving Your Dreams” with Derek Jeter, has written a new baseball book.
It’s with another ex-Yankee, David Cone.
“FULL COUNT: The Education of a Pitcher” explores Cone’s lengthy MLB career (1986-2001, 2003), his approach to the game and a few things he learned along the way while collecting five championship rings.
The YES Network baseball analyst and columnist, who previously spent nearly two decades covering Major League Baseball for The New York Times, takes readers on an insightful journey from ballpark to ballpark. That journey is seen through Cone’s eyes.
Curry has known Cone for decades and reported on most of his career in the majors, including stints with the New York Yankees and New York Mets.
Curry handles pre-game and post-game show duties for YES. Cone works as a color commentator on Yankees telecasts for the network.
This helped build the foundation for this project, a 400-page book published by Grand Central Publishing in May.
“I love being out there on the mound with the ball in my hand,” Cone, who won 194 regular-season games and eight more in the postseason, has been quoted as saying . “I can control the game. I’m out there. No clock — nothing happens until I throw that thing. Nothing happens. I love that feeling.”
What follows is a recent email interview with Curry about his new book, his rapport with Cone, additional insights about some of the key people he spoke to for the book and how he approached this ambitious project.
First of all, how would you characterize your relationship with David Cone during his playing days? Was there an excellent rapport between the two of you in his days as a pitcher and your younger days as a reporter?
I started covering Major League baseball for The NY Times in 1990 so I knew David a little bit during his Mets’ career. But I really developed a strong relationship with him after the Yankees acquired him in 1995. I was always intrigued by how insightful he was after games and how willing he was to speak with reporters about his performance and the team’s performance. Once I learned that David wanted to be a sportswriter as a kid and idolized Oscar Madison, it made all the sense in the world that he was so helpful and so giving in his dealings with the media. I’ve never met a player who understood my job (or other reporter’s jobs) as well as David did. Naturally, I seized on that and tried to strengthen my relationship with David because that made me better as a reporter.
Was this a subject you had in mind for a book for a long time? Or did it just come up casually during your discussions about baseball while at the ballpark with your YES colleague?
While I approached David about doing this book a few years ago, it’s an idea that’s been percolating in my mind for a lot longer. When I watched David pitch, I saw a pitcher whose eyes were bulging, whose forehead was sweating and who seemed as if all of the wheels were spinning inside his head. I always thought it would be compelling to get David to talk about what he was feeling in those precise moments on the mound, in moments of desperation and in moments of exhilaration. To me, it looked like David lived and died on every pitch so I wanted him to elaborate on those feelings. I feel we accomplished that and gave the reader an inside look at the art and craft of pitching. Also, although we started this book and believed it would be a pitching journey, it ended up becoming a personal journey, too, as David discussed a myriad of topics and incidents from his career.
Pitchers can be fascinating subjects. Finding out how they think and what makes them tick in the heat of competition, for instance. So, above all, what made Cone unique during his successful career?
David was a fierce competitor and that’s something that he displayed from the time he was a young boy. As the youngest of four children, David was constantly trying to keep up with his two older brothers and older sister and that helped guide him into the tough and competitive pitcher that he became. In addition to being so competitive, he was also desperate and manic on the mound. Cone believed so deeply in himself that he always felt he would figure out a way to get through an inning. That’s one of the things that really shines in the book: just how insecure even the greatest of pitchers can be. In one inning, David said he could go from feeling like a king on the mound to feeling as if he’ll never get an out. Obviously, he also had a wealth of talent. He wanted to be a pitcher from the time he was nine years old and his father did an incredible job of shaping him into the pitcher he became. Because Mr. Cone knew David wasn’t going to be 6-4 and 240 pounds, he taught him Tom Seaver’s drop-and-drive style so David could maximize the strength he would get from his legs. David has called his Dad his first and best pitching coach.
Did the following insight from former Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte help guide your structure for the book or to a lesser extend one of its themes?
“There was a sense about him and an aura about him. Even when he was in trouble, he carried himself like a pitcher who said, ‘I’m the man out here.’ And he usually was.” (Andy Pettitte on David Cone)
Sean Desmond, our editor, picked that quote and I think it’s very accurate. But, even before Andy Pettitte ever said, I knew that about Cone. It’s interesting that Cone won a Cy Young Award and pitched a perfect game and won five World Series titles, but one of the games that he’s most remembered for is a game the Yankees lost. That was Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS against the Mariners. He stayed on the mound to throw 147 pitches because he was so convinced he could get the Mariners out and help the Yankees get the win and advance in the playoffs. On the plane flight back to New York after the loss, he couldn’t lift his right arm off the airplane arm rest.
Even though you’d been around the Yankees and Mets for years and around the Big Apple baseball scene quite a bit, were there a few nuggets about Cone’s baseball career that were truly surprising to you that you came across during your research and interviews?
We did a chapter called “The Dance With Catchers” and I was fascinated by David’s relationship with his catchers. Obviously, I know how important the pitcher-catcher relationship is, but David get specific details about what he needed to see from his catchers and described the catchers who he meshed with and the catchers he clashed with. David admitted that he could be a pain in the neck to catch, but he wasn’t going to change who he was on the mound. He wanted the catchers to change to accommodate him. He spoke about he didn’t like to shake off signs and how he just wanted to stare in for signs. It was up to the catcher to know when to move on to the next set of signs. Not every catcher was adept at doing that. For instance, (Joe) Girardi was, but (Jorge) Posada wasn’t.
How much editorial control did David want for this project? Did he collaborate you (and perhaps with editors at Grand Central Publishing) in each chapter’s proofreading and revisions? Did he make numerous suggestions along the way, ideas that he thought would make the book better?
When the book process started, David and I sat down and developed an outline. We knew there were several topics we absolutely had to discuss in the book. We probably had about 25 potential chapters. As the interviews began, we added and subtracted and added and subtracted some more. We wanted to highlight David’s beliefs and philosophies about pitching while offering examples from his career. Also, as David told me specific stories, I would often reach out to other pitchers and interview them because he told me something that related to them. So, for this book, I ended up interviewing Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, Orel Hershiser, David Wells, Mark Gubicza, Justin Verlander, R.A. Dickey and several others. After I finished writing a few chapters, I would send them to David for his perusal. Sometimes, he offered some insight to make a section stronger. Most of the time, he just told me he liked the chapter and we moved on to the next chapter.
Did you have a lot of one-on-one interviews with Cone for the book? What was your basic work schedule to gather the material you needed from him? Such as: Were you meeting in person at a favorite watering hole or speaking on the phone each week at a certain time for an hour or two? Or random talks for 10 minutes here, marathon five-hour sessions there?
I interviewed David 42 times for this book so the interviews occurred in a lot of places: my house, Yankee Stadium, the YES Network studios, restaurants, hotel lobbies and, obviously, by phone, too. Sometimes, we spoke for three hours. Sometimes, we spoke for 15 minutes. We didn’t have a specific scheduled time to speak, but we spoke regularly and, since we work together, that helped us, too. My favorite “interview” was when we sat down and watched his 1999 Perfect Game at my house. David told me he had never watched the entire game so it was great to be able to chronicle his reaction to seeing it all over again. When David told me he talked to himself in the mirror of the clubhouse bathroom before the ninth inning, I knew we had the opening to our book.
Was there a definitive No. 1 favorite topic in the book that you interviewed Cone about? If so, why?
Our main theme was to discuss the art of pitching and how David, who was as creative and as intelligent as any pitcher of his generation, tried to deceive hitters. I think there are some pitchers who thought about the craft of pitching as much as David, but I don’t think there’s anyone who thought about it more than him. And, while we were doing this, we wanted to be honest. David is very honest and even very critical of himself, at times, in this book.
Can you shed some light on some of the key primary and secondary sources and others who helped you learn a lot about Cone as player and person and enriched the material you had to work with? Was somebody — or maybe a few individuals — incredibly helpful above and beyond any normal level for a project of this nature?
Because I’ve known David for about 25 years, I didn’t have to get to know the subject of the book. I already knew him very well. It’s always enlightening to talk to a player’s teammates about him so I did learn things from Girardi, Posada, (David) Wells and others.
Also, Andrew Levy, who is David’s business agent and one of the original Cone-heads, was a valuable resource because he’s a walking encyclopedia when it comes to David’s life and career.
What do you hope this book accomplishes in doing for readers from two different groups (die-hard baseball fans and casual sports fans)?
If you’re a diehard baseball fan, you’ll learn what it was like to be a major league pitcher and you will experience all of the peaks and valleys with David. David never played high school baseball, but he still made it to the major leagues and still excelled and had an amazing career. This book details every aspect of that journey, a journey that hit some speed bumps.
If you’re a casual sports fan, I think you’ll enjoy the personal stories about David and his father and how his father would only let him be a pitcher if he did things the right way. There are a lot of great father-son stories in the book. Also, David talks about some of the lessons he learned as a sometimes reckless and young pro pitcher and how those lessons shaped who he became. In addition, David has great anecdotes about some of his famous teammates like: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, David Wells, Paul O’Neill, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden.
It’s been a long time since your book with Derek Jeter (“The Life You Imagine: Life Lessons for Achieving Your Dreams”) was published. Looking back on that project, in what way(s) did it help you to collaborate with Cone for this book? Was there a level of familiarity/comfort in writing about a former Yankees icon after doing it once already?
The Jeter book helped me with the Cone book because it was a reminder that I had completed a book in the past so I knew I had could do it again. I’m very proud of the Jeter book, but the Cone book was a lot different. When I wrote that book with Derek, he was only 25 years old and had only played a few years in the major leagues. He was still becoming the iconic Derek Jeter. While we had a lot of riveting stories to tell, Cone is in his mid-50s and had competed an entire major league career and become a great baseball announcer. So there was a lot more to cover in Cone’s life and career. Also, Cone is obviously the more open and engaging player to interview.
From start to finish, how long did it take to write this book?
It took us about between three and four years.
In recalling what you learned while writing Full Count, did Cone reveal his perspectives on how vital Joe Torre and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, individually and together, were to the pitching staff’s sustained excellence? If so, what was most revealing about his views on Torre and Stottlemyre?
Cone loved Mel Stottlemyre because he was endlessly optimistic. Whenever Mel wanted to catch one of Cone’s bullpen sessions or wanted to have a chat about pitching, Cone said he was always upbeat. David thinks that came from Mel’s own career as a pitcher and from understand the ups and downs that a pitcher experiences. David said that Mel wasn’t the type of coach to offer a lot of mechanical advice, but he was an intelligent and trustworthy coach. Cone also had a great affinity for Torre. David said that Torre commanded instant respect because of the way he treated people and the way he trusted people. Whether you were a superstar or the 25th man on the roster, Cone said Torre had a way of making you feel comfortable. Because Torre had so much trust in his players, David said they didn’t want to let him down and wanted to succeed for him.