By Dan Schlossberg
David Cone, who pitched for both New York teams, lends his name to an annual golf tournament, sports memorabilia auction, and dinner held at the Brooklake Country Club in Florham Park, NJ. Founded 30 years ago by blind sportscaster Ed Lucas, the event raises money for handicapped people who have also lost their sight.
This year’s festivities featured more than 30 sports celebrities, including Darryl Strawberry, Willie Randolph, and umpire Al Clark.
But my favorite encounter of the night occurred around the cocktail table, when I stumbled into a conversation with John Valentin, who spent 11 years in the big leagues as a hard-hitting infielder.
A former Seton Hall standout whose college teammates included Craig Biggio and Mo Vaughn, Valentin hit .279 with 124 homers in a career that spanned the years 1992-2002.
In 1995, his best season, the shortstop-third baseman hit 27 home runs and stole 20 bases for Boston, earning him a ninth-place finish in the voting for American League Most Valuable Player.
But it was his last season, 2002, that interested me most. He spent that year with the New York Mets, enabling him to have frequent encounters with Atlanta’s Hall of Fame pitching legends Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz.
The only trio of teammates from the same rotation who spent a decade together en route to Cooperstown, they put dents in the batting averages of many big-league stars.
I couldn’t resist the temptation to ask Valentin which one he found toughest to hit.
“Smoltz had great stuff and could blow you away,” he said, “while Glavine pitched you outside, then went further outside, and even further outside.
“But Maddux could put the ball anywhere he wanted. He had the best control I ever saw.”
The statistics back the former infielder’s analysis. Maddux won 355 games, more than any living pitcher, and Glavine posted 305, thanks to five 20-win seasons. Smoltz was the only pitcher with more than 200 wins and 150 saves.
Maddux, Glavine, and their long-time Atlanta manager, Bobby Cox, reached Cooperstown in 2014 while Smoltz, now an MLB Network regular, was enshrined a year later. Smoltz, Cox, and pitching coach Leo Mazzone (who also belongs in Cooperstown) were the only men to wear Atlanta uniforms throughout the team’s record 14-year streak of division titles.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch and contributor to forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Ball Nine, and more. His e.mail is email@example.com
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