HE NEVER won a Cy Young award or a World Series ring. In fact, only once did he win 20 games in a season.
Yet if, as reports suggest, Mike Mussina decides to walk away from baseball later this week, I believe that he should be walking into the Hall of Fame.
Mussina, who turns 40 next month, has decided to go out on a high. Not for the first time in his career, he proved the critics wrong in 2008, bouncing back from a disappointing year to keep the struggling New York Yankees the right side of .500.
“Moose” went 11-10 in 2007 with an ERA of 5.15. When he began 2008 with a 1-3 record, many (myself included) were calling for him to removed from the starting rotation.
Hank Steinbrenner, Senior Vice President of the Yankees, publicly criticized him for not daring to pitch inside like Philadelphia Philllies veteran Jamie Moyer.
Moose, however, has always done things his own way. Never one to overpower the hitters, he spent his career relying on finesse and an acute ability to paint the corners of the plate.
What he did do was improve his strikes-to-balls ratio, cutting down on the walks and challenging the hitters to make contact.
Veteran pitcher set to retire on 270 wins
In a season when “young guns” Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy failed to win one game between them, Andy Pettitte pitched poorly and Chien-Ming Wang was injured, Mussina became the mainstay of the Yanks rotation.
He recorded his 20th win of the season – and 270th of his career – at Fenway Park on September 28th, finishing the year 20-9 with an ERA of 3.37.
The dilemma facing Moose this off-season has been whether to carry on pitching and go for 300 wins, or slip away gracefully to spend time with his wife, Jana, and their three children.
Family man Mike has always been concerned about his children growing up without really kowing their father. He was probably also concerned about being able to reproduce last season’s form should he decide to return.
Most baseball pundits agree that Mussina is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But they seem to be split right down the middle on whether he should eventually make it into Cooperstown.
In my view, he should. Not only did pitch all 18 seasons in the American League, he pitched them all in the unforgiving American League East.
Johnny Damon, his Yankees team-mate, told the New York Times: “His legacy is going to be one of the best pitchers to ever put on a uniform, a guy who was able to do it in the American League East his whole career.”
His first 10 seasons were spent with the Baltimore Orioles at batter-friendly Camden Yards. Yet he still ended up with a career ERA of 3.68, recording 270 wins against 153 losses.
Mussina pitched in the steroid era so you can also argue that he was at unfair advantage up against juiced-up sluggers. Although he never managed a no-hitter, he had now fewer than six one-hit games.
Moose, who earned an economics degree at Stanford University, was the thinking man’s pitcher. Now the Yankees have to think of a way to replace a 20-game winner and the heartbeat of their rotation.