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Appreciating Mussina

I may be the wrong guy for this, since I am on record both here and here as giving the thumbs-down to Mike Mussina's candidacy as a Hall of Famer.

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.

By Dave Sheinin  |  November 20, 2008; 8:58 AM ET
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You're still wrong on the 'no' for Mussina in the Hall. By almost any standard, he's as good as the typical HOF pitcher, and shouldn't be punished for pitching in an era where a few all-time greats overshadowed him.

Posted by: Uncle_Teddy | November 20, 2008 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I watched the Carl Everett game on TV. I think that might have been the only time Red Sox fans were cheering for a Yankee to finish off the Red Sox. Especially because it was Jurassic Carl. I remember boos for Everett that day - maybe I'm wrong. Or maybe I have at least 50 other games at which Everett was booed.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | November 20, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Mussina's had a great career but Bert Blyleven should enter the HOF before Mussina.

Posted by: cbobal | November 20, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Moose should be in. So should Blyleven, but Moose's worthiness is a serparte issue from Blyleven's.

Posted by: CharlieF | November 20, 2008 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Mussina has been the model of consistency over a long career. He really summoned it up this past season. I hope he reconsiders because he can still pitch at the highest level. He can be a spot starter for the Yankees, or someone; he does not need to win 20. Give it one more year, Mike, then be a pitching coach somewhere. As for the HOF, well lets wait the 5 years, but I hope he gets in.

Posted by: esfesq | November 20, 2008 3:02 PM | Report abuse

He was a good pitcher -- maybe even great. Unfortunately, he was also a "Benedict Arnold" -- an ace for one team going to that team's arch-rival. Many Oriole fans hated him for that and will never get over it. In some sense it is indicative of what is wrong with baseball -- that one or two teams with all the cable revenues can acquire most of the league's stars and become the all-stars against everyone else. Thankfully, having all stars does not guarantee a championship because as we have seen, a team can often times become greater than the sum of its parts by having chemistry. The Yanks are a good example of a bunch of good players without team chemistry. That is why I think they haven't won a championship lately despite having the largest payroll.

Posted by: nelmsmn | November 20, 2008 5:46 PM | Report abuse

I hate him for going to the Yankees. Angelos is a jerk and the Orioles have been run into the ground, so I don't blame him for leaving, but not to the evil empire. Maybe he can redeem himself by coming back for one more year and pitching the Nationals into the play-offs. How is his hitting?

Posted by: MrDumberton | November 20, 2008 10:19 PM | Report abuse

Ya gotta love his "squeezing one off" squatting windup with a man on first.

Posted by: Bartolo | November 24, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

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