Forty-year-old David Cone left the Yankees’ broadcast booth and signed on with the Mets for one more go-round on this date in 2003. The hope going into the season was that a resurgent Cone would complete an aging but still contender-worthy rotation with newly imported ace Tom Glavine, stalwart Al Leiter, slow but steady Steve Trachsel, and proven veteran Pedro Astacio.
It looked as if the script might play out as planned when Cone pitched five innings of two-hit shutout ball in his first start, earning a win against the Expos on April 4. He struck out five and got nine outs on ground balls. In his next start he endured a seven-run third, but, showing some of his old grit, came back out to pitch a scoreless fourth. His third start wasn’t all that bad: five innings, three earned runs, one of which scored after he departed. But he left his fourth start after two innings with a sore left hip that landed him on the DL.
Still not ready to call it quits, he rehabbed in St. Lucie and made it back once again, but pitched in only one more game, giving up a home run in two innings of mop-up work on May 28. Two days later, citing recurring hip problems, he announced his retirement.
Cone’s failed comeback attempt was emblematic of the disappointing 2003 season (66–95). Leiter and Trachsel were splendid, but Glavine had his worst year since 1988 and Astacio went down for the season with tendinitis after seven starts. While rookie Jae Weong Seo did a credible job plugging one hole in the rotation, four other starters posted a collective 4–15 record with an ERA of almost seven and a 1.85 WHIP. A pain-free Cone wouldn’t have saved the season, but he might have made it a little less painful for us fans.
The Mets’ landscape is littered with good defensive catchers who couldn’t hit a lick (or a baseball for that matter). Mike Nickeas, celebrating his big 3–0 today, could be the poster boy for that group, although the grand slam he hit last year might disqualify him. He is currently in spring training camp with the Toronto Blue Jays as a non-roster invitee.
Brian Rose, who today turns 37, pitched all of 8.2 innings in three outings for the 2001 Mets. He was acquired in one of those head-scratching, look-busy, end-of-spring-training swaps of marginal players. To obtain Rose, the Mets surrendered Mark Leiter, thus putting the kibosh on any dreams of his pitching on the same staff as younger brother Al.
Amazin’-ly Tenuous Connection
Exploiting a legal loophole in his native Japan, Hideo Nomo signed a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers on this date in 1995. His immediate success in the U.S. paved the way for an influx of Japanese baseball talent. No team to date has employed more Japan-born players than the Mets: 12. The three best were Hisanori Takahashi, a standout reliever in 2010–11; Masato Yoshii, a dependable fifth starter in 1998–99; and Tsuyoshi Shinjo, an outstanding defensive outfielder who was just plain fun to watch in 2001 and 2003. Kaz Matsui was the most heralded, hyped, and, almost predictably, the biggest disappointment. Nomo himself spent half of the 1998 season with the Mets, showing occasional flashes of brilliance amid mostly mediocre starts.