On this day in 1999, the return of Yogi Berra was celebrated at Yankee Stadium after a 14-year hiatus, which Berra spent away from the House That Ruth Built due to a feud with George Steinbrenner. Legends like Phil Rizzuto and Don Larsen were in attendance to welcome the beloved Berra home, as Steinbrenner and the Hall of Fame catcher set aside their differences for the good of the franchise.
However, the pregame ceremonies took a back seat to the real show, which would unfold during the actual game against the Montreal Expos. The star of the show would be David Cone, who provided the perfect follow-up to Berra's return (emphasis on perfect).
On a sunny afternoon 17 years ago, Cone twirled the third perfect game in Yankees history, providing the ultimate birthday gift for both manager Joe Torre, and this writer. Larsen, who pitched the first perfecto in pinstripes in the 1956 World Series, shook hands with Cone before the first pitch. Clearly, Larsen transferred some of his old magic to the Yankee right hander.
Cone struck out leadoff hitter Wilton Guerrero on a nasty breaking ball, but received a bit of a scare when the next batter, Terry Jones, drove Cone's pitch into right center field, only to be snagged by right fielder Paul O'Neill, who made a sliding backhanded catch to send Cone on his way.
After O'Neill's sparkling grab, Cone went into cruise control, striking out 10 and needing only 88 pitches to retire all 27 batters he faced. An incredible 68 of his pitches were for strikes. Home runs by Derek Jeter and Ricky Ledee gave Cone a 6-0 cushion, which was plenty for the 36 year old pitching like he was in the heart of his prime.
A beautiful backhanded stop by Chuck Knoblauch, and a flare to Ledee which was briefly lost in the sun were the only close calls the rest of the way. With two outs in the top of the ninth, Expos shortstop Orlando Cabrera popped a harmless fly ball into foul ground, and an ecstatic Cone fell to his knees in joy as the ball fell into the glove of Scott Brosius, sealing Cone's perfection.
Many would call Cone's performance unbelievable. Cone might consider it unfinished business. Back in 1996, Cone was diagnosed with an aneurysm in his right shoulder after a stellar start to the season. He was sidelined at the beginning of May, and many doubted if he would be back in 1996, or even at all. Cone, always the determined type, needed only four months to return, and made an immediate splash.
In his first game back from his surgery to remove the aneurysm, Cone pitched seven innings of no-hit ball, before Torre removed him in an effort to preserve his arm, given that he had just come back from a career threatening condition. Still, leaving a game without surrendering a hit can be discouraging, but considering what transpired three years later, it is safe to say that Cone moved on.
Cone was always a clubhouse favorite and outspoken team leader during his time in the Bronx. He won four championships as a Yankee, including a crucial Game Three win in the 1996 World Series to help swing the tide. His perfect day in 1999 came just 14 months after former teammate David Wells tossed a perfect game at the Stadium.
Cone was an All-Star in 1999, finishing the year with an ERA of 3.44 and 177 strikeouts. He also threw seven shutout innings in his only start of the World Series, surrendering just one hit. His perfect game remains the last no-hitter or perfect game by a Yankees pitcher.
You can relive each of Cone's 27 outs below.