The Hall of Fame calls for the Moose
Mike Mussina threw one last knuckle curve when he officially announced his retirement Thursday. The pitch surprised many, especially after the “Moose” won 20 games last year for the first time in his career.
But the former right-hand pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees had known about retirement since January when he summed up his current career of mounting injuries, modest records and an expiring contract. All those factors pointed to leaving the game after 18 years.
“I lied to all of you,” Mussina said at a press conference Thursday. “I knew that that was going to be my last year since the first day of spring training.”
Despite the secret, Mussina did not coast in his final season. He made 34 starts, pitched 200 innings and had a 3.37 ERA. Mussina became the Yankees ace after Chien-Ming Wang went down with an injury after 15 starts.
It was like the last year of high school,” Mussina said. “You know it’s going to end and you just enjoy the ride.”
Mussina beat Tampa Bay on Sept. 2 to improve his record to 17-7. He still had five more starts to accomplish something he had never done before. In his career, he recorded 18 wins five times and 19 victories twice. But he never reached the magical 20 mark.
Sportswriters and those who vote or have an opinion on the Baseball Hall of Fame questioned whether a pitcher who had never won a World Series or a Cy Young Award or 20 games in a season was deserving of enshrinement.
Mussina left more doubt as he lost his next two starts and pitched horrible in the process. He gave up 15 hits and nine earned runs in 11 innings.
But with the end so near and the Yankees out of postseason contention, Mussina rallied and allowed just one earned run in his final three starts. He went six innings and allowed three hits and no runs to beat Boston in his final appearance.
Mussina had finally reached 20 wins.
Now there should be no doubt about whether the man belongs in Cooperstown.
Here is some evidence.
* Mussina won 270 games in his career and only 32 pitchers in the history of baseball have won more.
* Mussina’s career record is 270-153 and only 20 other pitchers have finished 100 or more games over .500. Of those 20, there are 16 in the Hall of Fame with the other four, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine likely to be voted in as well.
* He never won a Cy Young Award, but neither did Nolan Ryan, Juan Marichal, Phil Niekro or Don Sutton, all in the Hall of Fame.
*Mussina’s .638 career winning percentage is higher than these likely Hall of Fame candidates: Maddux, Glavine, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz.
The biggest question is whether Mussina will enter as an Oriole or Yankee. Only Mussina can answer that. But here are some stats to consider.
*He played 10 of his 18 seasons in Baltimore.
*He won 147 of his 270 victories with the Orioles.
*He recorded 1,535 of his 2,813 strikeouts wearing the orange and black.
*He made five all-star appearances as a member of the Baltimore Orioles.
Mussina remains popular among Oriole fans who can never forget his gutsy performance in the 1997 ALCS against the Cleveland Indians. In Game 3, Mussina struck out 15 but the Orioles lost 2-1 in 12 innings. He came back to shut out the Indians in Game 6, but Baltimore failed to score as well and lost 1-0 in 11 innings. The defeat sent the birds home from the playoffs.
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