09.11.06

Klapisch Recalls Controversial Cone Column

Posted in Baseball, Sports Journalism at 9:18 am by

The Bergen Record’s Bob Klapisch jogs down memory lane to October, ’88 and the NLCS, when a Daily News’ column he ghostwrote for the Mets’ David Cone provided bulletin board fodder for the underdog Dodgers.

Unlike today, when Derek Jeter serves as the model of Q-and-A caution, the old-school Mets told you exactly how they felt, Cone especially. Getting a good story was no great chore. All I had to do was ask a question and start copying down his unfiltered responses.

But trouble arrived in the moments after the Mets came from behind to beat the Dodgers in Game 1, 3-2, scoring all three runs in the ninth inning. The heart-piercing blow was Gary Carter’s two-out, two-run double off Jay Howell, whom Cone later referred to as “a high school pitcher.”

He did so because Howell threw his one great pitch, the curveball, over and over, the way a high school pitcher relies exclusively on a single weapon. Cone meant no insult to Howell. I heard the tone of his voice; there was nothing mocking or disrespectful. Yet, in print, the words were like a punch in the face and they started a war of the worlds.

The next day, Tommy Lasorda got his hands on a copy of the late-edition News — no small achievement considering he couldn’t just point and click on a Web page. Instead, Lasorda had the real thing in his hands, the actual paper, with Cone’s column.

“He called you guys a bunch of high-schoolers,” Lasorda shouted at his Dodgers in the pregame clubhouse. It was a wild exaggeration, but Lasorda needed something to rally his team. And it worked: Cone was blistered for five runs in two innings as the Dodgers went on to a 6-3 win.

In retrospect, I should’ve cautioned Cone about speaking so freely. It’s one of my longstanding professional regrets. But at the time, I assumed this was no ordinary Q and A. Cone was being paid by the News, so it didn’t seem strange that he would be even more forthright than usual.

One thing was certain: I didn’t steer Cone into those comments, nor was I trying to maximize my exposure during this controversy. As the ghostwriter, my name wasn’t even on the column.

It would’ve been easy for Cone to say I misquoted him. It would’ve been the oily way out. But Cone owned up to that “high school” reference, which is something I’ve never forgotten.

When journalism students ask me who’s the greatest pitcher I’ve ever covered, I have two answers.

Most talented: Gooden in 1985.

Most honest: Cone in 1988.

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