The New York Yankees' former postseason star retired at 38. After so many successful Octobers, he left the mound, thinking he would never want to return. But after one year away, spring training enticed him as if it were the irresistible aroma of an old flame's perfume.
"It is a powerful lure to think about a comeback, and I know what Andy is thinking right now," Cone told ESPNNewYork.com on Monday. "I certainly went through the same thing. It is something that once it gets in your system it is hard to get out."
After 5½ seasons and four World Series rings with the Yankees, Cone played for Boston in 2001. He then retired, but made a comeback in 2003 -- at age 40 -- with the Mets.
It was sweet, then short.
With his legs not fully under him, Cone broke with the big club at the end of spring training and had one more magical moment, throwing five scoreless innings against the Montreal Expos in a 4-0 win at Shea Stadium on April 4. Six days later at Olympic Stadium, the Expos had caught up to Cone, chasing him after four innings and seven runs.
Cone made two more starts in April and then one at the end of May before he said goodbye for good.
"I probably rushed it a little bit," Cone said. "I think that is going to help Andy because he is not going to have to rush."
Not only may Pettitte not rush it, but Cone thinks he may not leave. This might not just be a 2012 thing for Pettitte. Once you start dating the game again, you never want to break up -- until the game tells you it is over.
"I think that is quite possible," Cone said of Pettitte playing beyond this season.
Cone, who does excellent work on YES these days, knows how well Pettitte was pitching when he retired. Pettitte finished 2010 at 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA and two strong, seven-inning postseason starts.
With his velocity a few ticks down on the gun, Pettitte had matured, using his mind as much as his arm to find a way to be better than batters.
Cone believes Pettitte will be able to find his command quickly. His legs are another matter.
"There is no substitute for actually pitching in games," Cone said.
Cone doesn't think you can train in a gym to prepare to pitch. It is the up and down between innings and the adrenaline of being on the mound that can't be simulated.
But once Pettitte's get running, he may not stop. Cone believes if Pettitte would to have 20 to 25 turns through the rotation, he can win almost half his starts, stacking up 10 or more wins.
"He left on top of his game," Cone said. "When he retired he had as good a numbers as he has ever had and he was pitching as well as he has ever had, so I think all those things are going to work in his favor."
But really, the Yankees want Pettitte for October. They want him to become the first 20-game winner in postseason history. Spring training entices the ballplayer, but that just gets him in the door. It is October that brings everything back to life. Cone believes Pettitte will survive to the fall and maybe even beyond.