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THE HEADLINER
John Ed Bradley
April 05, 1993
STRIKEOUT KING DAVID CONE HOPES THE NEWS HE MAKES AS A KANSAS CITY ROYAL WILL BE ABOUT BASEBALL, NOT OFF-THE-FIELD SHENANIGANS
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April 05, 1993

The Headliner

STRIKEOUT KING DAVID CONE HOPES THE NEWS HE MAKES AS A KANSAS CITY ROYAL WILL BE ABOUT BASEBALL, NOT OFF-THE-FIELD SHENANIGANS

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Cone rented a two-room suite in Toronto's SkyDome Hotel. The furniture was comfortable, and at least the place felt like a home. He drank plenty of beer there and smoked tobacco too, and when he needed air, he took the freight elevator down and went for a walk in the parking lot or out on the field. He didn't sleep much at night. He'd never known such pressure to pitch well and win. It felt as if a whole country were riding his back: Canada on its way to the World Series. He hadn't done much to help the Blue Jays get to postseason play, and so, he reminded himself daily, he didn't have the right to fail in the playoffs and the Series. He was a hired gun. He'd call Lynn just to hear her voice. It let him know everything would be O.K. He called Ed and Joan down in Florida and then Ha Ho in Kansas City whenever he needed to be reminded that he could do it.

He ended up winning four games for the Blue Jays, and now another city loved him. He'd beaten every adversity, tamed every doubt, silenced every critic. The issue of character was no longer mentioned when people brought up his name. Some of the best clubs in baseball were his for the asking, and he planned to shop around. The Braves, the Phillies, the Blue Jays, the Yankees, the Cubs, the White Sox. The Royals...don't rule out the Royals.

"I don't know if they're a viable option," he heard himself say quite a lot. He might just as well have said, "I don't know if they can afford me."

Back home one day in Kansas City he put on his best navy-blue suit and tie and went with Fehr to the offices of Marion Merrell Dow Inc. They were led into a conference room with a long table and shown where to sit. Cone and the company's chairman emeritus, Ewing Kauffman, exchanged small talk along with the Royals' Robinson.

K.C. has one of the smallest markets in baseball, and the last two years it had lost millions, and why would anyone play for the Royals when the Yankees were courting him? "A Mets-Yankees monster," that was how Cone had been seeing himself lately. But then the old man started to talk. "The only pitcher we're going after...a unique, creative offer...won't present it to you until you can sit in a room with me and look me in the eye and tell me that you want to come home."

David left the meeting feeling as if the way suddenly had been made clear to him. He called Lynn, knowing she'd have mixed feelings. She was an East Coast woman and wanted him nearby, but she knew he needed to be out of New York. He called his parents and his siblings and his friends. Then three days later he and Fehr met again with Kauffman. A deal was put on the table, and Cone smiled in astonishment at the size of the bonus.

"I knew we had him then," Kauffman would say later. "The answer was right there in his eyes."

Cone and Fehr adjourned to a room down the hall, and each of them got on the telephone. Fehr made some business calls, and Cone made a private one. He called Ha Ho and told her the news. Ha Ho sounded happy and full of life, but at the same time she was careful not to sway his decision. "Follow your heart," she said. "Do what makes you happy."

And that was when he knew he was going back home to Kansas City.

So at the end of this long January day on the Goodwill Caravan, David Cone returns to his new house in a Kansas City suburb a very contented man. Of all the places in the world he can now afford to buy, he has chosen Bret Saberhagen's old one. Not that Cone likes it much; in fact, he would much prefer a more storied house, something with a history that had evolved slowly. He could afford a marble mansion, and this place cost only $250,000. But Sabes did win two Cy Young Awards while living here, and Cone figures the house must have a third one left hanging around somewhere. Not that he's superstitious.

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