There hasn’t been much to cheer about for us Yankee fans this year; we’re scudding along around the .500 mark, and the constant injuries, most seriously to Jorge Posada, have cast a downer on the early season. Of the “Big Three,” only Chamberlain has pitched with consistency. Robi Cano has regressed. Joe Girardi, while fairly progressive in the dugout, has so far been defensive and irritable after losses, and in some cases less than forthcoming with the press corps. That’s been a shock to the beat writers, so used to the steady, open Torre.
But as the .500ish record would suggest, things haven’t been all bad. The beauty of Mariano Rivera’s delivery has been matched by his results—as good as ever. Chien-Ming Wang, 5-0, has been his brilliant, maddening self. Matsui and Abreu are hitting. Melky Cabrera has been, arguably, the team’s best position player all month.
For my money, however, these things have all been overshadowed by the emergence of David Cone in the broadcast booth. Yes, his voice is thin and his face a bit sallow. He both sounds and looks like someone’s kid brother. But the Yanks have never had a more perceptive analyst. The intelligence he demonstrated on the mound has translated directly to the air. Listening to him deconstruct a pitcher’s delivery or a batter’s weakness has been fascinating; his eye for the telling detail is spot-on, and he’s never been self-serving about his own accomplishments, though he’s given ample opportunity in that regard. He’s shown himself well aware and open-minded about sabermetric thinking. So, yes, he’s got analytical skills. But what sets him apart from other broadcasters is his engaging, quirky, oddly charismatic personality. Over the first month of the season, he’s exhibited the same presence on-air that Yankee fans remember from his days playing with the club: honest but positive, authoritative but slyly humorous.
The other night in Chicago, bad-boy A.J. Pierzynski pushed a deep fly off Joba in the 9th, and then crossed in front of the pitcher, giving him the needles. The obvious response would have been to take the bait and get a bit riled up, but instead a bemused Cone noted that the incident didn’t seem to phase Joba, and anyway, Pierzynski’s “kinda funny looking, isn’t he?” He wasn’t being insulting; it was almost a compliment—like that was A.J.’s style—but it effectively took the steam out of the situation in a positive, amusing way. (Earlier in the game he had favored listeners with an anecdote from his own days about heckling from the bench.) The commentary made a situation that could have been aggravating (and was, after the Yankees lost a few batters later), something that was enjoyable. That’s the job of the analyst, to entertain and inform, and thus far, David Cone has been doing both.