ON THE morning of Dec. 20, David Cone, who had switched teams
four times in the previous four years, prepared himself for yet
another move: to Baltimore. Frustrated by a reduced offer from
the New York Yankees, Cone (right) and his agent, Steve Fehr,
called Oriole general manager Pat Gillick and gave him "an
exclusive right to sign me," the pitcher says.

The two sides agreed on the average annual value of a three-year
contract: $5.75 million. It would be a signing that would bring
seismic change to the balance in the American League East,
giving the Orioles two of the top three active pitchers in
winning percentage (minimum 75 decisions)--leader Mike Mussina
and Cone, who ranks behind Roger Clemens of the Boston Red
Sox--backed up by Cooperstown-caliber middle infielders Cal
Ripken Jr. and Roberto Alomar.

"I guess I was looking for reasons to stay [with the Yankees],
but a lot of people were giving me reasons to go," says Cone,
who lives in Manhattan. The Yankees, he says, had "backpedaled
twice" from a three-year, $19 million offer with two option
years--once by dropping one of the option years and once by
cutting the buyout from $1 million to $550,000.

Given a chance to close the deal, the Orioles created a snafu
when they asked Cone to defer some of his salary without
interest. Cone told Gillick he would need to suspend talks to
confer with his accountant.

During that brief lapse, Cone received a call from Yankee owner
George Steinbrenner. The Boss reattached the second option year
to his offer, improved the guaranteed value of the contract to
$19.5 million and tossed in the clincher: a no-trade clause. It
meant that Cone could be sure of his whereabouts for three years
or even through 2000, if he attains the conservative
innings-pitched thresholds that guarantee the option years.

The offer the Orioles had tendered included only a limited
no-trade clause. The New York Mets, who made a late entry into
the bidding 30 minutes after Steinbrenner's phone call, offered
a three-year deal with a limited no-trade clause covering only
the first two years. Cone opted to stay with the Yankees and the
chance for stability.

"It was something I hadn't really thought about," Cone says of
the no-trade protection. "But the more I thought about it, the
more it appealed to me, especially after winning the Cy Young
Award in '94 [with the Kansas City Royals] and then getting
traded twice."

"David Cone has been shipped around all of his life in
baseball," says Steinbrenner, who, nine days after signing Cone,
lured free-agent lefthander Kenny Rogers with a four-year, $19.5
million contract. "I felt it was important that he and his wife
settle in one place and not have to worry. It's what I wanted
for him."

"It was almost like I had to trick myself into thriving in that
hired-gun role. And I think I did thrive," says Cone. "But the
fact is it takes a toll, too, especially with me being newly
married. Now I'm 33, and, if I pitch the way I have, I've got a
five-year deal. I control my own destiny. No more packing bags."

--Tom Verducci


RIGHTHANDER DAVID CONE has switched teams five times since 1987,
including four changes-of-address in one 35-month span. His

March 27, 1987--TRADED with catcher Chris Jelic from the Royals
to the Mets for catcher Ed Hearn and pitchers Rick Anderson and
Mauro Gozzo.

Aug. 27, 1992--TRADED to the Blue Jays for infielder Jeff Kent
and outfielder Ryan Thompson.

Dec. 8, 1992--SIGNED as a free agent by the Royals (three years,
$18 million).

April 6, 1995--TRADED to the Blue Jays for infielders Chris
Stynes and Anthony Medrano and reliever David Sinnes.

July 28, 1995--TRADED to the Yankees for pitchers Mike Gordon,
Marty Janzen and Jason Jarvis.

Dec. 21, 1995--SIGNED as a free agent by the Yankees (three
years, $19.5 million plus two option years).