When I think about the talented pitchers I worked with, Coney's at the top of the list. He threw six quality pitches. Most pitchers have two or three. They want to simplify things and master a couple of pitches. Not
Coney. He wanted to throw six or seven pitches well. And he did. His fastball was overpowering, topping out in the mid-90s. He threw hard. Had great arm speed. He also threw a two-seam fastball that ran a bunch on his arm side and moved in toward right-handed hitters.
Mainly, Coney was a breaking ball pitcher. His curveball, slider, and forkball were filthy. When he threw his slider, he could make it move like a whiffle ball. Instead of a curveball that drops from the twelve on a clock to the six, the slider moves to the side, across the plate and away from the head of the bat. He threw the pitch hard – in the mid-80s, I'd guess –, and the ball moved so fast and quick. Most guys don't have the arm speed that Cone had to make the ball break as much and as quickly. It's funny, but I've heard Cone attribute his nasty breaking stuff to playing whiffle ball in the backyard with his brothers as a kid. The tricks he learned there to make the ball dip and move while he was copying the different deliveries of guys like Luis Tiant, he applied them in the big leagues. Putting spin on the ball. Throwing a sidearm curve or slider. Using different grips. His slider grip was a
little unusual in that he'd place his index finger on the seams. That created some spin, but he also included a lot of wrist action, cocking and snapping his wrist when he released. He kind of cupped the ball mid-delivery and bent his wrist forward, trying to generate a lot of wrist action to create that movement. As far as something that a pitching coach would teach, this isn't it. They'd see these things and probably think, "Arm injuries. Too much strain on your shoulder or elbow." You can't argue with the results, though. By far, he threw the best breaking
balls of anybody I ever caught. They were so good that he'd pitch backwards. What I mean is that, where a pitcher normally throws his fastball in the count, that's when Coney would throw his breaking pitches. Most guys get ahead in the count with their fastball, then go after a guy with breaking pitches. Not Cone. He started off with breaking balls and put hitters away with his fastball.
On top of already throwing six quality pitches, Coney adjusted his arm angles. It was like he could invent stuff out there by throwing one pitch over the top and the same pitch at a three-quarters delivery or sidearm. Changing the arm angle changed the arc of his pitches and made the ball do different things. So, really, it was like he had eighteen or twenty options out there, depending on if he threw overhand, three-quarters, or sidearm. I think he got a kick out of throwing sidearm especially. When he threw his breaking ball from the south, he called it his
"Laredo." He liked to improvise with the different deliveries. Sometimes, after I signaled for a pitch and we agreed that he'd throw whatever, Coney'd think, "I'll throw this one three-quarters." Hell, sometimes mid-delivery he decided to change arm angles. I had to adapt and be able to catch whatever he was throwing on the fly. The crazy thing was how astute he was at picking up pitches and knowing how to throw all of them for strikes at different arm angles. I never caught anyone who changed arm angles so drastically or as often as Coney. Most guys just stay in the same arm slot over and over again so they know where their pitches are going.
Having all these options complicated things for him. He wanted to throw all of his pitches, so he could have a hard time deciding which pitch to throw. All this talent made him so much fun to catch. You could ask him to do so many things. I just tried to figure out what he was throwing well on a given day and go with him. Create a good flow so he didn't shake me off. If his arm was hurting and throwing a certain pitch made him hurt more, that made things a little easier – he just wouldn't throw that one that day. Coney worked through a similar process too. During warm-ups, he'd run through his repertoire. See what was working well for him that day. Decide if his fastball was exceptionally good or if his curveball was breaking real well. Shape pitch selection around that rather than being in a defensive mode and pitching around hitters' strengths or to their weaknesses. He'd challenge guys and see if they could beat him and what he was throwing best that day.