David Cone and the Trade that Sunk the ’92 Brewers

During the 26-year playoff drought Milwaukee endured from 1982 through 2008, the 1992 Brewers marked the nearest miss. It wasn’t a team of stars — Robin Yount was 36 and had lost his power stroke, the starting rotation was led by such luminaries as Bill Wegman and Jaime Navarro, and Doug Henry closed his way to 29 saves despite a 4.02 ERA. Paul Molitor, in his last year as a Brewer, was the club’s only All-Star; he finished the year at .320/.389/.461 with 12 home runs as Milwaukee’s designated hitter.

The Brewers fell four games short of the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East, and the Jays would go on to win consecutive World Series titles before falling into a two-decade playoff drought of their own. The Blue Jays have pushed in their chips in an effort to reach the playoffs this year, much like the Brewers did in 2008 when they acquired CC Sabathia for the stretch run. Saturday, new Toronto ace David Price made his second start as a Blue Jay, and thus far, his performance may sound familiar to Brewers fans who remember Sabathia’s remarkable 2008 run. Price has tossed 15 innings, allowed just a single run on six hits and five walks, and struck out 18 batters.

For David Cone, announcing the game for the Yankees on YES Network, this was all very familiar. The Blue Jays acquired Cone in a post-waiver deal on August 27th from the New York Mets for Jeff Kent and a player to be named later. Cone made eight appearances (seven starts) for the Blue Jays, in which the club went 5-3. Cone recorded a 2.55 ERA and struck out 47 against 29 walks in 53 innings. Hitters mustered just a .207/.318/.309 line against Cone as the Jays cruised into the playoffs.

Because this was an August deal, after the July 31st deadline, Cone had to pass through revocable waivers before the trade could be completed. The Blue Jays had stood atop the division all year long. When the deal went through, Toronto was 73-55 and only the Oakland Athletics had a better record at 76-51. As such, any other team in the American League could have claimed Cone on waivers in order to block the trade. And so one must wonder: why didn’t the Milwaukee Brewers, who wound up being Toronto’s closest competitors, claim Cone and block the deal?

Unsurprisingly, part of the answer is that Bud Selig was a cheap skinflint who cringed at the thought of paying the remainder of Cone’s contract — a bit over $1 million before he became a free agent at the end of the season. But that isn’t the whole story. The Orioles were actually in second place in the division at the time, just 2.5 games behind Toronto, and they also declined to claim Cone. Furthermore, Cone wasn’t the only affordable, quality player to pass through waivers. A whopping 12 post-waiver deals were completed in August of 1992, including five in the final two days of the month. Quality players like Jose Canseco, Kevin Bass, Bill Krueger and Jeff Reardon were also dealt that August. Cone talked a bit about what happened on Saturday’s broadcast in the bottom of the seventh inning:

My trade to the Blue Jays in ‘92 came after the trade deadline. I had gotten through waivers. There were some funny things going on in ’92 with the waiver wire. Entire rosters got through waivers that particular year so some trades could happen after the deadline. Therefore, when I got traded to the Blue Jays it was a huge lift for them but it was also deflating for the Milwaukee Brewers who were chasing us because they did not block it via waiver wire, potential trade. I talked to several of the Brewers on that team a year or so after that particular situation and trade and they were really deflated and angered by their front office for not blocking that trade. It was really deflating on one side for the Brewers who were chasing the Blue Jays back in ’92 and a big uplift on the home side in Toronto.

First, a refresher on the context of the early 1990s, a tumultuous point in baseball’s history. As the 1992 season was closing down, the conflict that resulted in the 1994 strike was taking shape. The owners were in the process of deposing Commissioner Fay Vincent, who had taken the players’ side in the ongoing collusion battle with the owners. “The single biggest reality you guys have to face up to is collusion,” Vincent told the owners in November 1990, after MLB agreed to pay $280 million to the players in damages. “You stole $280 million from the players, and the players are unified to a man around that issue, because you got caught and many of you are still involved.”

Vincent was kicked out in September, just after a number of odd deals like Cone’s were allowed by competitive clubs to transpire during the waiver trade season. Marvin Miller, players’ union head, agreed with Vincent and told reporters the behavior of both the owners and previous commissioner Peter Ueberroth in the 1980s had been “tantamount to fixing, not just games, but entire pennant races, including all post-season series.”

I’m not sure exactly what David Cone meant when he said “some funny things were going in 1992,” but for Brewers fans, I don’t think there’s a single satisfactory explanation. Either the end of the 1992 season was corrupt due to the ongoing collusion and labor battle within the game, or Bud Selig was utterly unwilling to open up his checkbook to get his squad to the playoffs. Or both! We can’t forget that possibility.

A number of fans and analysts believe the Brewers would have overtaken the Blue Jays had the Jays not acquired Cone. I’m not so sure that’s true — the Brewers were 5.5 games back at the time, Cone only pitched in eight games, and he lost the only time he faced Milwaukee. But it’s one of those classic sports hypotheticals that fans, particularly fans of teams with losing histories like the Brewers, will understandably seize. Hearing David Cone talk Saturday about both the “funny” nature of that season and the deflating effect his trade had on the 1992 Brewers only adds to what was already some deep frustration.

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2 comments on “David Cone and the Trade that Sunk the ’92 Brewers”


The 92 Brewers played some of their best baseball of the year post-Cone trade, finishing the season on a 24-10 run after August 27th, with the pitching staff putting up a 2.71 ERA in Sept/October. There may have been some value in keeping him off the Jays, but the Brewers played really, really well after the trade that wasn’t made.

The 1992 outfield of Yount, Bichette, Vaughn and Hamilton, with Molitor as the DH was the strong part of the offense and makes trading for Canseco or Bass a minimal upgrade in a month sample. Bill Krueger was at the end of his career and largely inneffective in 1992.

Of course every team that is close but doesn’t make it can look at the moves not made, but I’m not seeing a whole lot to back up the article’s premise.


Saying that “any other team in the American League could have claimed Cone on waivers in order to block the trade” is misleading. According to this piece from the LA Times, Cone was placed on waivers at the beginning of August, and no one — not the Brewers, not the O’s, not the Jays — claimed him. That left the Mets free to deal Cone to whichever team they wanted; it’s not like the Brewers or O’s could’ve tried to retroactively claim Cone on August 27 to block the trade.

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