Blue Jays' Cone in no-lose situation

JOHN EISENBERG

October 09, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

TORONTO -- That was an auction disguised as a playoff game last night at SkyDome: The very public auction of David Cone, formerly of the Mets and currently of the Blue Jays, sort of, and on the verge of becoming his banker's best friend.

It went swimmingly, wouldn't you say? Not that there was a chance it wouldn't.

In any other line of work, you would have had to break a law to position yourself in circumstances as fortunate as Cone's last night. He started for the Jays and beat the A's, 3-1, in the second game of the American League playoffs. But no matter what happened, he could not have lost.

He could only win -- win more money than the pile he already is going to win in the off-season, when it is his turn to spin the incredible wheel of fortune known as free agency.

Had he pitched poorly and lost, let's just say his heart would not have broken. As he said the other day, being a rented pitcher in the playoffs is "not the same" as getting there after a long season with your team. And the Blue Jays are not exactly Cone's team. "I'm just sort of the hired gun in this thing," he said.

A hired gun -- very much for sale and in demand -- who got three hours of free advertising last night, with all of baseball watching. Can life get any more blessed? Ross Perot had to pay to get his pitch on TV the other night. Cone just had to pitch, period. Oh, and also remember not to smile while the Yankees, Royals and goodness know who else sat around deciding he was worth even more than they thought.

Call it a baseball romance, '90s style. The Blue Jays are romancing the World Series that has long eluded them. Cone is (( romancing that, too, but in the process romancing the contract of a lifetime, one that grows with every shutout inning.

And you thought postseason baseball was all about chasing glory? Have you heard of Marvin Miller? Cone's first words in his pre-game news conference the other day were this: "Right now, any team has a chance to sign me."

Or, as former Mets teammate Ron Darling, now of the A's, said yesterday: "I think it's fair to say David is making sure he keeps all of his channels open. This is the year he has to do that."

Not that Cone is approaching the untouchable mercenary standard set by cantankerous 'ol Doyle Alexander, who, pitching in Detroit in 1987, referred to his team not as "we," but as "the Tigers." Not exactly a team man. At least Cone seems earnestly excited about being here for the big show.

"I feel more and more a part of the team as days go on," he said.

He was with the Mets for six years, compiling an 80-48 record, but they dealt him in late August after he turned down their $16.8 million offer, thinking he could get more. It looks like he knew his stuff.

George Steinbrenner will be running the Yankees again soon, and he is openly covetous of Cone -- and the idea of signing the Mets' best pitcher. Steinbrenner, of course, is never afraid to pay top dollar, and he is going to be in a particularly charitable mood with the Yankees in such bad shape.

Figuring that Cone has already turned down $4.2 million a year, and that last year's Series hero, Jack Morris, signed for $5.3 million a year, and that Steinbrenner is ready to oil up his checkbook, you can see the exponentially rising stakes that accompanied every Cone pitch last night. And every one he throws in these playoffs.

See, if he doesn't throw another strike, he still gets his $16 million or whatever amounts to chump change in baseball today. But if he becomes this year's Morris, which would seem a possibility after last night, he hits the jackpot.

He says he is not thinking about it yet. Not thinking about maybe a $30 million contract. Wanna bet?

Not that the desperate Jays care. At this point, after all their playoff losses, they don't care if Nuke Laloosh takes them to the Series.

Cone certainly took a big step for them last night. The pressure was on, with the Jays having lost the first game of the playoffs at home. Another loss and the series was all but over. One Toronto columnist already is writing about "the c-word." Choke. It can get tough up here real quick.

But Cone was brilliant. He used all four of his pitches and had the A's swinging like fools at his off-speed deliveries. When he came out in the ninth to a Dome-rattling ovation, you got the feeling that, for the first time in years, the Jays were in a playoff series for the long run, not a short goodbye. It was precisely the reason they got Cone. A hired gun to make a difference. A hired gun who can't lose.

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