Mike Mussina Retires, Orioles Fans Exhale & Cooperstown Awaits
I wish the Moose well, first of all, and wish him contentment and happiness in his newly announced retirement. Like many Orioles fans, I felt like I’d been stabbed when he left a lost-at-sea Orioles franchise after the 2000 season to join the hated New York Yankees, winners of three straight World Series at the time. We all feared the rich were getting richer, and dreaded the prospect of seeing one of the toughest right-handers in all of baseball come out of the wrong dugout at Camden Yards.
The Yankees certainly got their money’s worth, as Mussina went 123-72 over eight seasons, plus a 3.00 World Series ERA when his teammates got him to the Fall Classic. On the other hand, he never got his ring, and had to wait until his last start of his last season to achieve his holy grail 20-win season. Though he fashioned a 10-8 record against his old Baltimore mates, his 4.83 ERA against them was his highest against any team that faced him for at least 35 innings.
I never shared the unabashed hate for Mussina held fiercely by a number of O’s fans based on the belief that he was a traitor. Don’t get me wrong. I hated those stinking pinstripes and NY road grays more than ever, but I actually hoped he’d pitch well while the other guys in his clubhouse foiled his championship plans. I guess you could say that’s what happened.
Now that it’s over, I don’t feel compelled to write why I believe Mussina’s a worthy Hall of Famer. To me, it’s not even debatable and even having the discussion is somehow a slap to the man. If you don’t believe me, go make a list of all the pitchers in major league history that won at least 100 more than they lost that aren’t in the Hall and get back to me.
I had a good view from the upper deck behind home plate when Mussina whiffed 10 Texas Rangers over eight three-hit innings to earn his first major league victory on 8/14/1991. I’ll always remember the first inning homer he surrendered to Juan Gonzalez, and the fact that Baltimore’s Jose Bautista got the last three outs in what proved to be his last appearance in an Orioles uniform. Also, the feeling that I was seeing a really good pitcher. That feeling never left.
Even on July 1, 1994 –when I watched the California Angels blast five homers off Mussina in just five innings– I still saw a guy who somehow managed to improve his record to 12-4. (Sure, those half-dozen Orioles longballs in retaliation had something to do with it).
In 1997, I saw him best Randy Johnson in his prime at Camden Yards, and face down John Smoltz in the Orioles interleague debut series in Atlanta when they swept the mighty Braves. Later that year, Mussina put on the finest post-season pitching exhibition I’ve ever seen. In the Division Series, he beat the Big Unit -not once, but- twice to lead Baltimore into the ALCS, where he held the powerful Cleveland Indians to a single earned run in 15 innings of four-hit work while striking out 25!!! Yet, the Orioles scored a grand total of one run in his two starts, lost both games in extra innings and dropped a heartbreaker of a series. So, I don’t want to hear any crap about Mussina not being a Hall of Famer because he doesn’t have a ring.
He’s was a pitcher in every sense of the word, one of the best I’ve ever seen, and a smart guy whose answers tended to rise or sink to the level of the questions he was being asked. He was also an autograph collector’s dream for what it’s worth, and by all accounts a standup guy you’d be proud to have in your family. I just hope the folks in Cooperstown will put an orthonologically correct Orioles bird on his Hall of Fame plaque instead of that cursed “NY”…and I live in New York!
Mussina as an Oriole = 147-81, 3.53 in 2009 2/3 innings
Mussina as a Yankee = 123-72, 3.88 in 1553 innings
P.S. – In case you didn’t know, you can buy a Moose bar (among other things) at www.mikemussinafoundation.org