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Hall of Fame

Mike Mussina: The ‘should be’ Hall of Famer

In an era where there are pitch counts, inning limits, and frequent Tommy John surgeries, consistent workhorse pitchers just aren’t commodities anymore. Pitcher’s arms are treated as fragile pieces of china, rather than assets that are used until they almost fall off of the bodies of these athletes. A guy that was a staple of the end of the “workhorse” era was Mike Mussina. The Moose pitched in the highly competitive AL East his entire career, a division that had fiery bats such as David Ortiz, Rafael Palmeiro, Carlos Delgado, Manny Ramirez, Jose Canseco, (and a lot of Yankees).

The Invisible Bench

The benchmark for pitchers used to be 300 wins, but that doesn’t seem feasible anymore. Mussina ended his career with an impressive 270 wins, which ranks 33rd all time. All but one (Roger Clemens) of the 300 Win Club have been elected to the Hall of Fame. I understand the argument that Mussina didn’t eclipse 300, but there are other statistics that work in his favor.

Another benchmark for pitchers is 3,000 strikeouts. Mussina struck out 2,813, still an insane number of K’s. No, he didn’t reach these benchmarks, but they are numbers that are made up that don’t take everything in regard.

Right Guy, Wrong ERA

His career 3.68 ERA is remarkable considering the division he pitched in his entire career. Guys who have a 5+ ERA will definitely have jobs pitching in the American League, due to the designated hitter and other factors. With a sub-4 ERA, Mussina would be a number two starter at the very least for most clubs. The best American League team ERA was Houston at 3.57, and everyone saw how dominant their pitching staff was (cough cough, AL Wild Card game) Don’t forget the parks the AL aces of today pitch in. Dallas Keuchel and Felix Hernandez both pitch in pitcher friendly parks, like Safeco Field and Minute Maid Park respectively. Mussina pitched in Yankee Stadium, where a pop fly accompanied by a gust of wind would send just about anything into the hand of the Bleacher Creatures. His low ERA needs to be examined as more than a number.

Moose: Stronger Than a Horse

His nickname of “The Moose” perfectly describes Mike Mussina. He pitched at least 200 innings eleven times in his career, something which will be unheard of when the pitchers of today retire. If you look at the current starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame, they were all guys who took their teams late into games, and won.

Mussina Goes to WAR

WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a stat used a lot nowadays. Mussina’s career WAR is 83, which stomps all over other HOF compatible pitchers at around 73, depending on which pitchers you believe are HOF worthy.  Looking deeper into his WAR, during his best seven years in the league, his WAR was 44.5, higher than Tom Glavine, Nolan Ryan, Whitey Ford, and John Smoltz, ALL HALL OF FAMERS.

Getting Defensive

Another statistic overlooked for pitchers is defense. Defending your position is another facet of the game, and Mussina was one of the best, boasting seven Gold Glove Awards in an 18 year career. Impressive stuff.

You Don’t Know Me

When players are up for HOF voting, they are always compared to guys that played decades before them. Heck, I just did it for a bunch of paragraphs. In today’s game where a .275 batting average is considered good (or where a player like Stephen Drew can’t keep his batting average above .200 for the majority of a season and receive a $3 million contract) we cannot only compare player’s numbers when they are from different eras. Those guys I mentioned Mussina faced in the beginning of this article? All mentioned in connection with performance enhancing drugs in one way or another. Mussina pitched in the Steroid Era, in the toughest division in baseball. That MUST account for something and go on his resume.


In 1996, the American League average ERA for a pitcher was 5.00! At the peak of batter’s injecting themselves with juice to make their heads the size of pumpkins, Mussina was below the league average that season at 4.81; not great, but very good. In fact, Mussina’s ERA was lower than the league average 15 out of the 18 seasons he pitched. On top of that, his ERA was a full point lower than the league average 11 TIMES. If you want to compare him to today’s pitchers, you would expect him to post subzero ERAs in today’s game, which is HOF worthy for sure. Mussina isn’t credited for being a great playoff pitcher, but he posted a very good 3.42 playoff ERA.

Mike Mussina wasn’t the best pitcher of all time. Nobody is saying that. But to discredit what he did because his numbers don’t compare as well to today’s pitchers is hogwash. He was reliable, consistent, a great defender, and the quiet ace. Unless a miracle happens and the voters look deeper into the numbers, The Moose won’t be a Hall of Famer. The arbitrary benchmarks required of a bust in Cooperstown have shackled many players whom likely deserve the honor. That’s a shame, but Yankees fans will continue to tip their caps to number 35, Mike Mussina.