In 2009 the Hall of Fame voters inducted Rickey Henderson on his first ballot and Jim Rice on his last. Those same voters decided David Brian Cone was not only unworthy of the Hall of Fame, but unworthy of even remaining on the ballot.
From my perspective Cone was a great pitcher. Without even studying his career closely, I figured him to be a borderline Hall of Fame candidate who might linger on the ballot and maybe get one of those late pushes that helped Blyleven and Rice get in (and probably Jack Morris next year). At the very least he might be Tommy John and get 15 cracks without breaking through. But to not even muster the minimum 5% to remain on the ballot after one try? Preposterous.
As a Royals fan, Cone was "the one who got away, came back, and got away again." I am convinced, with Saberhagen and Cone atop the rotation, the Royals may have given King George one or two more World Series rings. But that's ok, we got Ed Hearn.
So, let's take a look at the Hall of Fame case for Cone:
1. The Perfect Game
2. Impressive postseason record
3. 58.8 WAR
4. .606 Winning Percentage
5. Two 20-win Seasons
6. 2,668 Strikeouts
7. Five sub-3.00 ERA seasons
8. Five time All-Star
9. Cy Young Award Winner
10. 8.28 Strikeouts Per 9 Innings
11. Black Ink - 19, Gray ink - 168, Hall of Fame Monitor - 103, Hall of Fame Standards - 39.
13. Career ERA of 3.46
14. 194 + 8 Wins
1. The Perfect Game - On July 18th, 1999 the cermonial first pitch was tossed by Don Larsen to Yogi Berra on "Yogi Berra Day" at Yankees Stadium. Cone must have been inspired, because he took the ball and proceeded to pitch the 16th Perfect Game in Major League history against the Montreal Expos. Along with Larsen's, it is the only other "Interleague" Perfect Game. What made this particularly remarkable was the 33 minute rain delay in the 3rd inning. The image of Cone falling to his knees after the final pitch remains one of those moments burned into our collective minds.
2. Impressive postseason record. 8-3 overall with a 3.80 ERA. 2-0 in the World Series with a 2.12 ERA in 29.2 IP. Cone was a member of 5 World Championship teams. Cone was not the "Ace" for the 1992 Blue Jays, rather he was a hired gun for the stretch run. He did pitch great for them. His other 4 Championships were as a part of the Yankees behemoth that closed out the 20th Century: 1996 - Injured with an aneurysm in his arm, Cone missed a lot of the season, but, with apologies to Andy Pettitte, was still the best pitcher in the rotation. 1998 - One of the greatest teams in history, Cone and Wells were the best pitchers. 1999 - Back to Back Champions and Cone was the best pitcher in the rotation again. 2000 - Let's face it. The Yankees won in 2000 despite Cone, who was awful. On balance, being arguably, the best pitcher on 4 different World Championship teams certainly counts toward his Hall of Fame case.
3. 58.8 WAR. Let's take a look at career value. Using Wins Above Replacement, there are 11 Pitchers with a higher WAR than Cone and not in the Hall. Of the 11, two are 19th Century Pitchers (Tony Mullane and Jim McCormick), four are not yet eligible for the Hall but likely going in (Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Mike Mussina), two are currently on the ballot (Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling), and the remaining three would have to go in via the Veteran's Committee if at all, (Luis Tiant, Kevin Brown, Rick Reuschel). First, let me point out, there are plenty of Hall of Famers below Cone on this list including perceived "no-brainer" Hall of Famers like Mordecai Brown and Hal Newhouser. But focusing on those above him, Tiant, Brown, and Reuschel are really the best arguments against Cone on the WAR front, but one could also argue that Tiant and Brown are borderline Hall of Famers themselves. The anomaly here is Big Daddy. In fact, seeing Rueschel ranked as having the 97th highest WAR total in history almost undermines the statistic. But I digress. On balance, Cone's WAR is actually one of his strongest arguments.
4. .606 Winning Percentage. His .606 Winning Percentage is 98th best all-time. As I mentioned in the Schilling article, this compares favorably to Hall of Famers Warren Spahn, Herb Pennock and Walter Johnson (in fact his is better than those guys). Cone's Winning Percentage is better than Tom Seaver's. Another interesting fact? Cone pitched 17 seasons. Of all pitchers in history with 17+ seasons on their resume, only ONE Hall of Fame eligible pitcher has a better winning percentage than Cone who has not been inducted - Roger Clemens. All in all winning percentage in and of itself does not constitute a Hall of Famer, but only 26 current Hall of Famers have a better winning percentage, so this certainly helps his argument.
5. Two 20-win Seasons. Not exactly the kind of stat that makes you go, "Wow! Now THAT's Hall of Fame worthy!" But there is one interesting footnote...Cone went 10 years between 20 Win campaigns. This is the longest span between 20 win seasons. Like Schilling, Cone's 20-win seasons aren't going help other than to be able to say he won 20 games at least once. It may even hurt.
6. 2,668 Strikeouts. This includes six 200-plus seasons. Cone also led the league in strikeouts twice. He sits at #22 on the All-Time Strikeout list. Of the eligible pitchers on the list, all but four (Clemens, Schilling, Lolich, and Tanana) are in the Hall of Fame. If we extend to the top 30, Chuck Finley and Jerry Koosman are not. As mentioned in the Schilling article, the ineligible pitchers include two "no-brainer Hall of Famers": Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux, and three "may/should make it with a decent argument but each has question marks": Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, and Mike Mussina. So, all in all top 30 in strikeouts still looks pretty solid. This helps Cone. That being said, it is starting to look like the "3,000" Strikeout Club is the real place to be. This hurts Cone.
7. Five sub-3.00 ERA seasons. Many Hall of Famers have more. This isn't really going to help him though, like the 20-win argument, he will at least get credit for it. Something that seems to still be hurting Jack Morris.
8. Five time All-Star. Like Schilling's Six, also a great total. Once again impressive since it speaks to coaches picking him rather than fans. Without the All-Star selections his case would also have a big hole.
9. Cy Young Award Winner. Not winning the Cy Young hurts Schilling's case, but clearly helps Cone's. He was a Cy Young contender (Top 5) in 3 other seasons and even managed to garner a few MVP votes over the years. However, his overall "Award Share" total is not a good as Schilling's; though it is still an excellent 35th all-time. Of the 34 pitchers above him about half are either in the Hall or will be. Winning the award helps his case, but is not, in and of itself, a reason to induct him into the Hall.
10. 8.28 Strikeouts Per 9 Innings. This is good for 26th All-Time. Obviously a fantastic historical rate. Being one of the best of all-time in any category is always impressive. However, when reviewing the 25 names above his,there are two Hall of Famers (Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax), a few probable/possible Hall of Famers (Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Justin Verlander, etc) and a lot of pitchers who will never make the Hall (Kerry Wood, Erik Bedard, JR Richard, Eric Plunk, etc). On balance, his strikeout rate has no bearing on his candidacy.
11. Black Ink - 19, Gray ink - 168, Hall of Fame Monitor - 103, Hall of Fame Standards - 39. One of these puts him on par with average and likely hall of famers. Two of these are misses, but at least close (Gray Ink and Hall of Fame Standards). And he's a swing and a miss on the Black Ink. What this tells me about David Cone is he was consistently among the league leaders in many important categories, but rarely THE leader.
12. Uniqueness. Cone was not as unique as Schilling, but he was fairly unique. Two of Cone's most similar pitchers are in the Hall of Fame (Dazzy Vance and Bob Lemon). His most similar pitcher is Doc Gooden at 945. 8 of the other 9 are clustered around 900. Like Schilling he is not so unique as to say there has never been anyone like him, (see Nolan Ryan where Carlton at 755 was the most similar), but similarly unique in the Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton way that there weren't a lot of pitchers like him.
13. Career ERA of 3.46. Hmmm...his career ERA is the exact same as Curt Schilling's. So I can just regurgitate what I said about Curt: This is probably going to hurt his argument. At a quick glance, there are only 7 Hall of Fame Pitchers worse. That being said, his ERA+ (121) is slightly better than the most recently inducted pitcher, Bert Blyleven (118). In fact, his ERA+ would be right in the middle of the Hall of Fame as there are 32 HOFers with a better ERA+ (Including Ruth). What's all this mean? Though his ERA probably hurts his argument, his ERA+ provides some context that helps his case.
14. 194 + 8 Wins. This hurts his argument. 300 Wins makes a pitcher's career look aesthetically pleasing. 200 Wins does not, per se, but missing 200 Wins can make an otherwise stellar career feel like it's missing something. However, if we include the postseason, Cone surpasses the 200 Win barrier at least making his case a little better. But again, 200 Wins doesn't get you into the Hall. For Cone, this is a strike against him.
Overall, the argument looks decent for Cone. It's certainly not as solid as Schilling's argument. But he's at least a decent candidate and certainly worthy of more than the paltry 21 votes he received prior to being bounced from the ballot. From a gut perspective, Cone seemed like a future Hall of Famer at times, but not all the time. He had a reputation as a horse and was known for some ridiculous pitch counts (166 in one game, for example). There may be more deserving players that should go in first (the aforementioned Tiant, for example), but Cone would be a fine addition to the Hall. Regardless, he certainly should have lasted longer than one and done. Coupled with the logjam on the current ballot, the Veteran's Committee is probably going to be busy for years to come.
Speaking of players who were unceremoniously dumped from the ballot after one try, Lou Whitaker is perhaps the best example of the BBWAA getting it wrong. Maybe we'll take his case next time...
Thanks for reading,