In Kansas City they make a top-notch steak and some fine barbecue. And first-rate music if you go for jazz. And maybe a decent sportswriter or two—they make that. Or used to. Wasn't it Hemingway who had a start there, long, long time ago? But hot young baseball talent...they just don't make much. And, no sir, they never have.
When David Cone was a kid living in a blue-collar neighborhood on the northeast side of Kansas City, he never imagined he would grow up to be the best-paid pitcher the game has ever known. He told people he wanted to be a scribe, like Oscar Madison, the irascible slob in The Odd Couple. Have a beat and lots of dizzy dames. Have an apartment and keep it ear-deep in filth. Have a drink and a smoke before getting out of bed in the morning. Have whatever, since Oscar Madison didn't seem to give a hoot.
Have a ball, in other words.
When Cone finally gets around to writing his life story, as he plans to do one day, he'll have to start with a chapter called "Defining Moments" and include therein a mention of how the Kansas City Royals, desperate to improve on a lousy 1992 season, gave him a three-year, $18 million contract to bring his big right arm back to town. He might want to describe what it felt like to hear team owner Ewing M. Kauffman offer him a $9 million signing bonus and to suddenly be able to buy entire towns in the Midwest.
It wasn't about the money, he might begin this section. O.K., maybe it was about the money, but K.C. was my kind of town and always would be....
"What I mean by defining moments." somebody's telling Cone now, "are times that shed light on who you are, that help to make sense of how you turned out the way you did."
As if anyone in creation could ever hope to explain that. And, besides, it's much too early in the morning, about 8:30, and no one has had coffee yet, and Cone was up past one last night reading a book by Brandon Tartikoff, the former programming chief of NBC, of all people.
Each winter the Royals send players out on a publicity junket called the Goodwill Caravan. A few days ago Cone went to Nebraska; today he's visiting Kansas; day after tomorrow it'll be Missouri. This morning first baseman Wally Joyner is traveling with him. Joyner's in the front seat of the car, idly chatting with the Royals' p.r. boss, and Cone's stuck in the too-warm back, mumbling the words defining and moments over and over.
Well, O.K. There was that time with the New York Mets in May 1990 when he got into a jawing contest with an umpire and let two Atlanta Brave base runners score. That's something he'll have to put in his book. It helped define him, after all: his often hard-to-hold temper, his pugnacious nature, his tunnel vision. It'll be up to Cone to describe the moment, since he's a pretty fair hand with language.
A white-hot fury brought a blush of color to my cheeks as I wailed against this most unexpected and untimely injustice....