The Blog Squad

Friday, November 21, 2008

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.

OUT AT HOME: I’m coaching middle school girls’ basketball and was asked by one of the players if I had seen High School Musical 3. I told her that I don’t want High School Musical, but I had seen Grease. Her reply was “Grease is gross. They smoke, dance funny and talk about summer loving.” Her answer got me wondering. If High School Musical isn’t about doing bad things in high school, then what’s the point?

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: This is incredible.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Never Too Old to Play

I’ve often thought about the future, when my salt and pepper hair turns permanently silver, what will I be doing?

I dream of waking up, ambling to the back patio and leaning against the deck railing to watch wave after wave crash onto the shore. I’ve thought of eyeing a 150-yard seven-iron shot into the wind and sticking it 5 feet from the pin. I’ve wished for a golden age of driving the country, seeing up close the many wonders I’ve glimpsed on the Discover Channel.

But never, ever would I consider doing what Ken Mink does in his 73rd year on Earth.

It was just last year when Mink was hitting jumper after jumper in his driveway that he thought he could still play.

Yeah, by play he means college ball, like he did in 1956 at Lees (Ky.) Junior College, which abruptly ended when he was dismissed for allegedly soaping the coach’s office with shaving cream.

So after telling his wife, he wrote to several colleges.

Roane State Community College (Harriman, Tenn.) coach Randy Nesbit invited him to play.

“I’m not very good at saying no,” said Nesbit, 50, to the Knoxville News Sentinel. “It’s a gesture of good will to help a fine man find closure. Why not?”

Ever since that acceptance letter, Mink has spent his time, seven to eight hours a week, getting in shape for the upcoming season.

He ran. He played pickup ball. He joined the senior Olympic team (3-on-3, halfcourt) and finished second in tournaments in Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. He even won the Tennessee state free-throw championship by hitting 19 of 20 shots.

His goal is to have enough stamina to play full speed for 10- to 15-minute stretches, though that’s being optimistic. He’s likely to receive a third of that time on the court.

Last month, he visited the school’s doctor, who cleared him to play. Now he’s practicing with his fellow Raiders.

“The team makes allowances for Ken at practice when they need to, and they all encourage him,” Nesbit said in the New Sentinel. “We look to be fairly strong, so hopefully we’ll have some games decided early. I’m sure he’ll have the opportunity to play.

“Our weakness last year was experience; I think I’ve taken care of that.”

Mink commutes 35 miles to the community college and is taking 12 hours of credits.

“I'm in class with a bunch of kids with their hats turned on backwards, but they are all amazed when I tell them what I’m doing,” Mink said in the News Sentinel. “The kids say their grandfathers are my age, and they can't get out of bed. Actually, I am older than the teachers and the school president.”

And he’s nearly twice the age of the school, which was established in 1971.

Mink has ties to the News Sentinel, where he worked as Sunday editor and entertainment editor from 1972-85. He also was city editor of the Kingsport Times (1985-88) and managing editor of the Harrisonburg (Va.) Daily News Record (1988-1998).

He’s the author of So You Want Your Kid to Be a Sports Superstar and plans to write a book about his Roane State experience titled Season From the Past.

Go get'em Mr. Mink. I’m rooting for you.

OUT AT HOME: I’ve had a Facebook page for about a year now. But I’ve never really done anything with it until recently because I thought it was for college kids. But friends from way back, as far as elementary school have found me. It’s fun to catch up with people you used to play straw football with at lunchtime. Facebook does have a purpose.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: The best pregame warmup I’ve ever seen.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The NBA’s Rare Air

I can’t watch the NBA anymore. Not because the product is entirely bad. It’s because I’m so disgusted by the attitudes of players like Stephon Marbury that I can’t invest my time or money anymore.

The guy is due to make $21.9 million this season. That’s a lifetime of money for you, me and a couple dozen of our friends. The problem is, he hasn’t played yet for the New York Knicks and has been deactivated indefinitely.

Does he care? He doesn’t show it.

It’s the same Stephon Marbury who has destroyed every team he’s been on. It’s the same guy who quit on the Knicks a few times last year and pouts when he doesn’t get his way. When he was starting at the point, Marbury led the Knicks to a pair of all-time worse records and then shrugged his shoulders.

Now New York is unsure what to do with him. Nobody will trade for a veteran point guard who has lost a step and a few inches on his vertical, especially one who is guaranteed $21.9 million. So a trade is out of the question. The Knicks hope they can convince him that a buyout of his contract will be best for all involved. It will allow Marbury freedom to play for another team while New York saves a few bucks and rids itself of this pariah.

My guess is that Marbury will not do that and try to collect all $21.9 million while not playing a single minute of the season.

How can I relate to that?

To be fair, the NBA is not entirely filled with players like Marbury, but there are quite a few and enough that I’m turned off by the air up there. Unlike the NFL, NBA players sign guaranteed contracts.

I feel fortunate that I can earn a competitive salary at a job I truly love. That sense of good luck pushes me to work harder and improve to become a better professional. I could never get away with Marbury’s attitude.

There’s a lot to admire about some NBA players. They are truly some of the most gifted athletes on the planet. They simply take my breath away with what they can do to defy gravity, and for a moment, I join them in space. But when they return to Earth and jolt me back to reality, I am reminded that we have nothing in common.

At 38, I might be too old for the NBA. And I might not be hip-hop enough, although I still enjoy old-school rap.

Every time I want to give the NBA another chance, I remember Latrell Sprewell, who was insulted after being offered a 3-year, $21 million contract extension at age 34. He famously said, “I have a family to feed.” He declined the extension and had the worse season of his career. He never signed another contract and has since experienced financial ruin.

The NBA? No thanks. I don’t have time. I need to work for a living. I need to feed my family.

OUT AT HOME: Whoever becomes our next president, I hope that person can truly bring the changes we desperately need.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: This is funny. Beware of mascots.