David Cone balances baseball analytics and analysis in broadcasting on YES Network
STAMFORD, Conn. — David Cone pitched a perfect game, won a Cy Young Award, won 20 games in a season for both the Mets and Yankees, won five World Series rings and is de facto lead Yankees analyst at the YES Network.
But as a 56-year-old Manhattanite with a slight build, he has no trouble blending into the New York scenery.
“I ride the subway and put my glasses on and I look like an accountant,” he said recently during a break in a promotional shoot for YES’ Yankees coverage.
Wait: David Cone is not regularly recognized after all these years and all those pitches?
“Not a lot,” he said. “Occasionally. You have to be a real big baseball fan. I fly under the radar pretty well.”
That will be a bigger challenge than usual this year, with Cone’s schedule up to about half of the Yankees’ schedule — more than any other analyst at YES — and with the 20th anniversary of his perfect game coming in July.
The Yankees will give out Cone bobbleheads to mark the occasion.
Does he find it shocking that it has been 20 years since he retired all 27 Expos he faced on “Yogi Berra Day,” with fellow Yankees perfect game-thrower Don Larsen in attendance?
“It is,” he said. “It’s a slap in the face, for sure. The ’90s are ancient now. I think 1999 was just not that long ago, but I’ve had a couple of wake-up calls with younger kids who know me as a broadcaster, not a player. That was a bit of a slap in the face, too.
“Their parents will tell them, ‘He played,’ and they’ll look at me like, ‘You’re a player?!’ ”
Cone said the thing that sticks with him most about that July day in the Bronx is not the game itself but rather its effect on fans.
“Somebody regularly tells me where they were in the ninth inning,” he said. “ ‘I was with my grandmother.’ ‘We were at the Jersey Shore.’ ‘We were listening around the radio in a parking lot.’ ‘My grandmother’s not with me anymore, and it’s one of my best memories that I had with her.’
“It made me realize it’s not so much what I did, it’s what it means to generations of fans.”
Cone initially joined YES in its first year, 2002, then landed on the naughty list after a comeback with the Mets in 2003.
“George [Steinbrenner] wasn’t happy with that,” he said with a smile. “I was on five-year probation, then came back.”
He returned in 2008, took 2010 off, and has been with YES continuously since 2011.
Cone generally has received positive reviews from fans and critics, and in particular has displayed a grasp of and openness to analytics unusual for someone of his baseball generation.
He said he got ahead of the curve when his agent, Steve Fehr, used advanced data to win two arbitration cases in the 1990s.
“That kind of spurred my interest, because we won those cases, and it was based on how won-lost records can be deceiving in evaluating a pitcher,” he said. “If you peel back a few layers, you can see what he really did and get a better sense of value. The arbitrator liked it.”
The trick as a TV analyst is to not overuse numbers.
“There’s definitely, especially with respect to on-air, a time to do it and a time not to do it,” he said. “If I can’t explain it fairly concisely, I probably don’t understand it well enough to be talking about it anyway. It has to be digestible.”
Michael Kay, Cone’s play-by-play partner, praised Cone’s sense of balance as an analyst.
“I actually think he is as good as if not better than anybody doing the game, and that includes the national guys,” Kay said. “He’s funny. He’s current. He’s not one of those get-off-my-lawn guys. He’s not, ‘Things were better when I was a player.’
“And he’s been ahead of the analytics curve, to the point where sometimes we have to rein him in because baseball also has older viewers that don’t want to hear about that. He has found this incredible balance to be able to explain it, what’s important, not make it bog down the broadcast . . . To me he’s the gold standard right now.”
Cone said in his early years on TV, he worried about being critical of active players, but he got over it.
“Stopped caring,” he said. “You just realize you have to be honest and find a balance where you still understand the game is hard to play, you still remember that, but at the same time, you have to tell the truth.”
Cone grew up in Kansas City but has been a New Yorker most of his adult life, so he usually feels like one. But sometimes not.
“I still have somewhat of a Midwestern accent that comes out,” he said. “I still have that mentality. I’m still a little naïve in certain areas. I actually say, ‘Hi.’ ”
With a 7-year-old son to keep him busy — and young — when he is not working, and no end in sight for his second career, he is ready for another promising Yankees season.
“It’s a very subjective job; there’s no scoreboard,” he said. “How did I do? You don’t know how you come off sometimes. Each year I’m a little better. I enjoy it.
“There are some games where you get a moment where it almost feels like you’re playing again. When you’re driving home after the game, you’re like, ‘Wow, that was fun. That was exciting.’ I still get those feelings.”