It is with a heavy heart that we report that one of the most entertaining characters from the New York Yankees' magical 1998 season has died.
Yes, make sure to pour out a bit of puppy chow today because Veronica, the Jack Russell terrier who belonged to David Cone's mother, has died at the age of 16. The current Yankees television analyst passed along the sad news (and a precious picture of Veronica) on his Twitter account Tuesday morning.
Veronica's role in the Yankees' 114-win World Series season might not be remembered by a lot of people, but there's no doubt she would have been a huge blog star had the blogosphere been around back then. Midway through the season, the scrappy hound bit Cone's index finger, forcing him to miss a start while paving the way for Orlando Hernandez's debut in the major leagues.
The New York Daily News reported on the story in its June 3, 1998 edition:
Hernandez escapes Fidel Castro's Cuba on a barely seaworthy craft, and will make his first major-league start because a puppy bit the staff ace? Hollywood can't make up this stuff.
"Obviously, a puppy's bite affects a lot of people's careers. It's a great story Hernandez, I mean, not the dog," Cone joked about his new teammate, who will be activated today, with reliever Todd Erdos assigned to Columbus.
"I could probably pitch with it, but it was Joe (Torre)'s decision and I understand it," Cone said. "But With El Duque, the name Wally Pipp does pop into my mind."
Cone, of course, did not get Wally Pipp'ed. He returned to the mound on June 7, striking out 14 batters — the third-highest total of his career — while allowing only two hits in a 4-1 complete-game win over the Marlins. He'd go on to win a league-leading 20 games and would pitch a perfect game against Montreal a year later.
"I've had a lot of luck with women, I know that," Cone joked. "I'm always very careful with my right hand. . . . It was just a split-second reaction. I was just pushing away the dog and caught one of her teeth."
El Duque, meanwhile, would make 21 starts for the '98 Yankees, going 12-4 with a 3.13 ERA en route to victories in both the ALCS and World Series. Would he have ascended to the Yankees even if Veronica had not gotten a bit hungry during Cone's visit with his mom?
Of course. The Cuban pitcher had been signed to a four-year, $6.6 million contract after escaping Fidel Castro's regime on the island nation.
But as the NY Daily News noted, Veronica's aggression provided a funny and improbably storyline to not only a memorable Yankees season but El Duque's memorable career. Rest in peace, little pup.