Sunday, August 12, 2012

50 Years in Cards: 1988

Part 27 of our 50-year Strikeout Hanky...
What is it: 1988 Topps #181, Dave Cone

What makes it interesting: The 1988s are another very pure effort from Topps during their Golden Era of the '80s. This design works so well, Topps would try to "replicate" it in later issues with miserable results. It's one of their more simpler designs, but generally, simple tends to work best when it comes to the composition of a baseball card.

Topps' issues are never without their screwups, however. One that was caught, and fixed, was the incorrect photo used on Al Leiter's Rookie Card from this issue. One that isn't so much an error is Topps' insistence on referring to David Cone as "Dave" on several of his early cards. I don't recall ever hearing anyone refer to him as "Dave." He was always David. In 1988, he evolved from a swing man, sometimes starting, sometimes relieving, never anything steady, to one of the best pitchers in the National League, and an emerging ace in a talent-laden Mets pitching staff. After the Mets basically heisted him from Kansas City in a trade involving Ed Hearn and Rick Anderson, Cone went 5-6 in 13 starts in an injury-interrupted 1987 season. Cone didn't make a start in 1988 until May 3rd, filling in for DL bound Rick Aguilera. Cone responded with a Complete Game Shutout against the Braves and didn't look back. He would make the first of two All Star Game appearances as a Met that season, and finished off his season winning all of his final 7 starts, mixing in 4 Complete Games and 2 Shutouts to cap off a sterling 20-3 season, with a 2.22 ERA and 213 strikeouts. Although an ill-advised and ill-timed article in the Daily News following Game 1 of that year's NLCS resulted in his getting bombed by a fired-up Dodgers team, Cone would rebound by pitching a season-saving Complete Game victory in Game 6 of that series.

From there, Cone became the #2 man in the Mets starting rotation behind Dwight Gooden. Though he would never match his lofty numbers of 1988, he would certainly acquit himself as an outstanding pitcher, topping 200 strikeouts 3 more times and never posting fewer than 13 victories. He would post three One-Hitters, and threw his finest game as a Met on the final day of the 1991 season, posting 19 Strikeouts in a shutout against Philadelphia.

Controversy would always seem to follow Cone, whether it was his attempt  at journalism, or some of his off-the-field exploits. Nonetheless, these things would never seem to affect him on the field, where he consistently presented a baffling array of pitches, which he would always throw at different arm angles, making him consistently one of the toughest pitchers to face in the Major Leagues. He was traded late in the 1992 season, in what could have been either a cost-cutting move, or a character-cutting move, but nonetheless, one of the best pitchers the Mets would have was gone. Success would follow him to other teams, with World Championships and a Cy Young Award, and when he returned to the Mets in 2003, it was a nice, nostalgic comeback story, as Cone returned to Shea wearing the uniform number of Dwight Gooden, but it didn't end in success and Cone ultimately retired in May. Nonetheless, Cone's contributions to the Mets and their success in the Late 80s cannot be overlooked, as he cut his teeth with the Mets and built the foundation of his outstanding career.

Card back:

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