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Friday, May 30
Updated: June 3, 7:54 AM ET
Cone: This is the end, for sure

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- David Cone stood just inside the Mets' clubhouse, personally delivering the news as his teammates trickled in.

David Cone had one of the best repertoires I've ever seen a pitcher possess. He had phenomenal natural stuff.

He never looked like a classic power pitcher -- he wasn't a big guy -- but he had a mid-90s fastball with about eight different arm angles. He threw a Frisbee slider that started out behind right-handed hitters, yet he could paint the outside corner with it. He was also able to throw a curveball and a devastating splitter, so he was as tough on left-handed hitters as on right-handers.

When Cone had it all going, he was lights out, absolutely unhittable. There was nothing you could do.

I never was a teammate of Cone's, but we crossed paths often in the National League and occasionally in the American League. The first time I saw him pitch was when we both played Winter Ball in Puerto Rico in 1985. I ended up edging Cone for the strikeout crown on the last day of the winter season (though I probably had 30 more innings than him). He had filthy stuff then, too.

When hitters struggle against a control pitcher (such as a Jamie Moyer or Tom Glavine), you can hear their frustration in the dugout after an at-bat: "This guy's got nothing -- how's he getting us out?" With Cone, it was the opposite. Guys would come back after an at-bat and say, "Wow, did you see that?"

Now that his career is over -- a career that included World Series titles and a perfect game -- I'll look forward to seeing Cone in the broadcast booth.

It was time to say goodbye.

Dressed in a business suit and still looking boyishly young despite a hint of gray around the temples, Cone retired Friday. He cut short his comeback with New York, calling it a career at age 40 because of an arthritic left hip, rather than a tired right arm.

"This is the end, for sure,'' the pitcher said at Shea Stadium.

No tears, no long speeches filled with regret. In fact, Cone even called out across the clubhouse to kid the guy taking his place on the roster -- 42-year-old reliever John Franco, activated from the disabled list after being sidelined since 2001 by elbow surgery.

"One of the old expressions in baseball is, 'It's time to get out of the game and give the young guys a chance,''' Cone said.

Joked Franco: "Man, I'm sorry I forced you out.''

Franco got used right away, pitching a scoreless eighth inning Friday night in New York's 5-2 loss to Atlanta. It was his 999th major league appearance.

Cone, who sat out the 2002 season, was 1-3 with a 6.50 ERA in five games this year, four of them starts. He made his final appearance Wednesday in Philadelphia, giving up a solo home run to Placido Polanco in two innings of relief.

By the time Cone woke up the next morning and limped across the room, he knew he was done. He told Mets management on Thursday night that he was retiring; Franco heard it on the radio Friday.

"I've been struggling with it for a while,'' Cone said as he stood next to his wife, Lynn. "It's a bit abrupt. But I can't do it physically the way I want anymore.

"Sure, I've had some sad moments,'' he said. "In some sense, there's a relief. Coming out of spring training, I really had high hopes. It was a little disappointing. But I wouldn't have traded this for anything.''

Cone finished 194-126 in a big league career that began in 1986 with Kansas City and spanned nearly 3,000 innings. He won the 1994 AL Cy Young Award with the Royals and pitched a perfect game with the New York Yankees on July 18, 1999.

Cone earned five World Series championship rings, four with the Yankees and one with Toronto. The five-time All-Star also ranks 17th on baseball's career strikeout list with 2,668.

He rose to prominence with the Mets in the late 1980s, and the team played a video tribute to him on the scoreboard in the first inning.

Fans were told he had retired and there was an ovation. But Cone was not in the ballpark to hear it -- he'd already started the next phase of his life, and had gone home to have dinner with his wife.

"He was fun to pitch with, and he was fun to watch pitch,'' Yankees ace Roger Clemens said in Detroit.

Said Yankees manager Joe Torre: "I'm happy for David because he tried.''

Mets general manager Steve Phillips said it was entirely Cone's decision to retire. The team has offered Cone a position in the organization, and he said he will consider the possibilities.

Cone thanked the Mets for giving him a chance to finish his career in New York.

"Last year, I kind of faded away. No one knew if I was going to play,'' he said. His official announcement gave him an opportunity "to do this right.''

Cone spent part of the 2002 season working as an announcer for the Yankees. Later, Franco and fellow Mets pitcher Al Leiter convinced Cone to give it one more try.

After a strong spring, Cone got his big chance on April 4 on a damp night at Shea. He summoned all of his experience and pitched five impressive innings, thrilling his Conehead fans and beating Montreal 4-0.

"It was kind of magical,'' Cone said. "That gave me hope that I had a last hurrah.''

Cone was not able to duplicate that success, and spent a month on the disabled list because of his hip. He made three rehab starts at Class A St. Lucie, going 0-1 with a 2.84 ERA and often rubbing his hip after pitches.

Franco returned after ligament-replacement surgery on May 15, 2002. The left-hander is second on the career saves list with 422 -- Lee Smith leads with 478.

Franco's previous outing was on Sept. 29, 2001, when he gave up a grand slam to Brian Jordan in Atlanta.

"A lot of people said I wouldn't come back or be back -- but I'm back,'' Franco said. "I've never backed down from a challenge.

"I still felt I had a little left in my tank,'' he said.

Coincidentally, two of baseball's best older pitchers started Friday night -- Greg Maddux for Atlanta and Tom Glavine for the Mets. The former Atlanta teammates both are 37.

Braves pitcher John Smoltz was sorry to see Cone go, but said it was not a somber occasion.

"It'd be sad if he was forced out, if he was hanging on too long,'' the 36-year-old Atlanta closer said. "But I just watched a bit of his announcement on TV, and it wasn't that way. He leaves with no regrets, and that's how to do it.''

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