We’ve all heard the saying, always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Mike “Moose” Mussina had the curse of the runner-up. A perpetual bridesmaid. Dating all the way back to high school, he was almost class valedictorian. In college, Stanford as a matter of fact, his team played in two College World Series, winning none. With the Yankees, he made it to two World Series, but never won a ring. He pitched three one-hit shutouts, but couldn’t quite get the no-hitter or perfect game. In a sport all about stats and accomplishments, I’d have to believe Mussina finished his career at least a little disappointed. In 2008, he walked away from baseball at 39, after his first 20-win season. He obviously wanted to go out on top, at least what he could consider on top.
In Baltimore, he is loved, respected, but most of all, hated. He was drafted by the Orioles, twice — once before college and then again after he graduated. Mussina, by most fans standards, should have retired an Oriole. From 1992 to 2000, Mussina put up Cy Young type stats (well runner-up type stats) for the Orioles. There were five All-Star selections, including 1993 when Cito Gaston decided not to put Mussina in the game even though the game was played in Camden Yards. The incident spawned the wonderful Baltimore original phrase and T-shirt emblem “Cito Sucks.” He won seven Gold Gloves, struck out 15 batters three different times and finished top-six in Cy Young voting nine times. Moose pitched his way to 18 or more wins twice, but never 20 with the Orioles. It was like he pitched against Sandy Koufax every time out. He hardly gave up any runs, but always seemed to lose by one, or leave the game with a lead and have the bullpen blow it.
After eight years of poor run support, five different managers and no clear future for the Oriole franchise, Mussina did the unthinkable: He signed with the Yankees. Was it really that unthinkable? Not at all. Moose was tired of being runner-up. He graduated from freaking Stanford, he’s a smart guy. The Yankees gave him the best shot at a ring. He stayed in the same league, which kept him facing familiar hitters. Even though there’s always drama in New York, there was still consistency of core players and Joe Torre as manager.
So, why am I writing this? The Orioles are inducting Moose into their Hall of Fame. The last true #1 starter to wear an Oriole uniform will be in front of the not-so-big Camden Yards crowd, and will certainly receive more than his fair share of boos. I will be embarrassed for Baltimore, simply because his decision to leave looks smarter than ever now. I don’t think fans get it sometimes. Mussina took the hometown discount in ’96, and in ’97 they went wire-to-wire only to choke against the Indians in the ALCS. By ’98 the team was a shell of itself, and the Orioles future was dim at best. Who wouldn’t you leave? You’re on a bad team, your contract’s up and somebody else is offering you big money and a chance to win. Fans cry about loyalty, but Camden Yards is lucky to be half full. Orioles owner Peter Angelos obviously has no loyalty to us as fans. He continues to put an inferior product on the field, a trend started when Mussina was still here. Moose obviously could see into the future.
Some of the talking heads say Mussina’s a bad guy. I’ve even heard fan encounters where he came across as arrogant and almost bothered by simple questions or autograph request. I don’t know, maybe he’s a bad guy, maybe it’s Stanford or maybe he hated the media and wasn’t comfortable with fans. I met him at a local restaurant, he looked me in the eye, shook my hand and seemed very friendly. So O’s fans, let’s show up strong for Mussina’s ceremony, show him loyalty even if you feel he didn’t necessarily do it for us. I think he made a basic business and career decision. The team’s history since his departure shows the wisdom of his decision. See you at the induction on August 24.