Mike Mussina is no stranger to the pressures and anxiety that comes in the month of January. And no, the motivating factor has nothing to do with Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame announcement on the horizon.
Now in his fourth season as head coach of Montoursville High School’s varsity boy’s basketball in Pennsylvania, the 270-game winning pitcher has placed his entire focus around the team’s sluggish 2-5 start to the season. If the challenge wasn’t already looming, one of team’s senior leaders, Mussina’s son Brycen, had spent the past year visiting colleges.
“So, to ask me if I’m worried about what’s going on in the Hall of Fame vote, no … because that’s not the most important thing to me right now,” Mussina told WFAN’s Sweeny Murti.
The 48-year-old, who retired from baseball in 2008, earned seven Gold Glove awards and made five All-Star Game appearances over an 18-year span with the Orioles and Yankees. Mussina has been on the Hall of Fame ballot for four years, and in 2016, he received 43-percent of the votes. But the low number isn’t disconcerting to Mussina, who will remain a Cooperstown candidate until 2023.
“I had a good vote last year and hopefully that trend will continue that the vote will still be favorable for me and we’ll see what happens this month,” Mussina said. “I haven’t been a Hall of Famer till now and if I’m not a Hall of Famer this year nothing’s really changed except that maybe I’ll get a little closer to being in, possibly.”
Since Mussina became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2013, five starting pitchers — Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Pedro Martinez — have taken part in induction ceremonies. Three of those Hall of Famers achieved 300 wins, while two collected Cy Young awards and World Series rings.
Perhaps Mussina’s case is now more compelling with worthy players off the list.
“I pitched in an era where there were a lot of good pitchers who lasted a long time,” Mussina said. “Not just good pitchers for eight or 10 years, these guys were good pitchers for 18 or 20 years. And I feel fortunate that I was able to play with them and compete with them and have the success — or near the success — they had.
“I got to win 270 games and I felt tremendously fortunate to be able to do that. I don’t know when the next 270-game winner is going to be. It’s not easy.”
Mussina also believes his dearth of accolades were out of his individual control. Granted, he came close to several achievements. In 2001, his first season with the Yankees, Mussina came one strike shy of a perfect game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park in Septemeber. Two months later, he was a Mariano Rivera save shy of winning the World Series in Arizona.
Whether or not the events were fate or circumstance, Mussina doesn’t have any regrets.
“I would never want to say I wish I would have gotten that perfect game, but then I only pitched 11 seasons,” Mussina said. “To play for 18 years and win 270 games is much more satisfying as I sit here at 48 years old. I would never have traded what I was able to do for one of those things to take away the ‘almost’ part. There’s a lot of stuff I did accomplish that was more than ‘almost.’ There just happen to be a handful of things that I didn’t quite get to do and that’s okay. You can’t have everything.”
According to Baseball-Reference, Mussina’s 82.7 WAR is 24th all-time for pitchers. In ERA-plus (123), he ranks higher than Don Drysdale, Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton, and several other Hall of Famers.
It’s evident that Mussina hasn’t passed the “eye test”, a simple glance at common statistics that shape a career. But another exercise that’s popular is comparing him to an actual Hall of Famer. In this case, Mussina’s numbers are similar to Jim Palmer’s, as both pitchers finished with identical winning percentages (.638). Mussina earned 601 more strikeouts than Palmer, and his ERA (3.68) was only .82 higher than Palmer’s.
And so the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) is left to make the decision, something Mussina isn’t necessarily in a rush to find out back home in rural Pennsylvania.