The parties finally break apart and retreat to their respective domiciles, but in minutes the neighbor returns, screaming and slamming his fists against the Cones' house. "I'm going to kill you!" he's shouting. "Going to kill you all!" He's also holding something shiny—something that, to David's eyes, looks like a small-caliber pistol. The Cone family has gone to perch in rooms at the top of the stairway. And from there they hear the awful crashing of the glass door in front, the man's hysterical laughter, his voice even louder now: "I'm going to kill you...going to kill!"
Then comes the sound of Ed ordering everybody back. "——gun," he's muttering. "——gun!" Ed's now brandishing a .22-caliber rifle, and it's jammed, and David, who's just a kid of 14 and can't possibly envision the great, blistering adventure of a life waiting for him, is thinking: We're going to die tonight. All of us. The neighbor's going to break in. And we're going to die.
Turns out it's only a knife the man's holding, and he's still at the front door when Ed's gun finally fires, a single pop that seems to suck the air from the house.
The man leaves a trail of blood as he runs limping home; then in minutes an ambulance comes and takes him away. He doesn't die, thank god, and eventually he and Ed, through a third party, reach an agreement: The Cones won't press charges if the man doesn't bother Danny again. And everything will be forgotten.
Everything will be forgotten until this cold winter day half a lifetime later, when David Brian Cone, now 30 and arguably the best pitcher in baseball, comes to think of it as the one moment that defines him better than any other. He's staring out the window at snowy fields rushing past, at little country houses with chimneys emitting thin ribbons of smoke.
"And what does it tell you about yourself?" he's asked. "That a man's got to protect his own, no matter what? That he backs down from nothing and no one? That he does whatever it takes?"
"Right," he says, still watching the fields. "All of that. Plus, don't be bullied by anybody." He gives his head a long, lazy shake. "The worst thing you could be called in this world is someone who didn't stand up for his family."
David Cone belongs in any time but this one, as he would be the first to tell you. In 1993 not even a strikeout king gets away with much. He should've played the game back in Babe Ruth's day, when teams rode the train and sportswriters stuck to stats and fancy adjectives and looked the other way when you screwed up. The old St. Louis Cardinals, the Gashouse Gang, he could've been one of them. Or a teammate of Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin. Or anybody else who sharpened his spikes and cussed fate and just raised a whole fantastic lot of hell. "I'd give up all the money I make to go back to a certain era," Cone says. "Back to when the I guys were gods. I'd give it up for the glory the players got way back when."
Any number of pop psychologists, disguised as reporters, have tried to make sense of Cone ever since he found himself in trouble at the 1988 National League Championship Series between the Mets and the Dodgers. That was when the New York Daily News fulfilled Cone's dream of being Oscar Madison and gave him a column.
Dodger starter Orel Hershiser, then in his prime, is "lucky," Cone wrote after Game 1. And reliever Jay Howell? "This is the Dodgers' idea of a stopper? Seeing Howell and his curveball reminded us of a high school pitcher."