But I don't want to sound like a Moose-hater. I am far from it. I covered Mussina in Baltimore for two seasons, 1999 and 2000, and consider him among my favorite athletes I've ever covered. He was smart and quotable, possessing of a biting sense of humor and completely without pretension. He dressed like a baseball writer, which is to say: not very well.
He could be off-putting and downright rude to writers he didn't know -- such as myself when I first took the job as Orioles beat writer -- but once he got to know you, he quickly became a "go to" guy for whatever you needed: a bit of honest insight into the team, an assessment of an opposing hitter, a one-liner about a bizarre situation.
I'll never forget the day Syd Thrift completed the infamous Orioles fire sale of July 2000 -- when, in four days, he traded away Mike Bordick, Mike Timlin, Harold Baines, Charles Johnson, Will Clark and B.J. Surhoff, for essentially a bunch of margin prospects (Melvin Mora being the only one who amounted to anything). When the last trade was completed, the Orioles' clubhouse was somber, and few of the remaining players had anything to say to the media.
Mussina, on the other hand, said this when I and the Baltimore Sun beat writer approached him: "Meet me in the dugout in five minutes."
Mussina, who would reach free agency at the end of that 2000 season, was steamed by the entire process, and I knew at that moment he would leave the Orioles at the end of the season. When we got to the dugout to meet him, Mussina blasted the fire sale, saying, "It looks to me like someone had a little too much fun."
When I showed up in Tampa, spring training home of the Yankees, the following spring to write about Mussina's transition to the pinstripes, the Yankees' beat writers kept asking me what was the deal with Mussina -- why was he such a jerk? (They didn't use that exact term.) I told them to give him time. And sure enough, by the end of that season they were all raving about him.
I don't want to get into another dissection of his career, but as Mussina frequently lamented to me, it seemed as if it was defined by almosts. He almost threw a perfect game against the Red Sox, until Carl Everett broke it up when he was one strike away. He almost won 20 games a number of times, but failed due to forces beyond his control (the strike that shortened the 1995 season, Armando Benitez's blown save in 1996). He almost won a World Series ring, coming one inning shy in 2001.
Of course, the list of almosts was shortened by one item this season, when he won 20 games for the first time.
Until recently, I always figured he would have another almost in his ledger when all was said and done. I figured he'd almost make the Hall of Fame.
Now, I think he will. And despite my admittedly elitist stance on that topic, I hope I am right.
November 20, 2008; 8:58 AM ET
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