Up for Hall, Mussina hopes to avoid 'Mr. Almost' tag
Winner of 270 games with Yanks, O's among first-timers on Cooperstown ballot
NEW YORK -- It is almost difficult to believe that more than five years have passed since Mike Mussina stood in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park, his fingers digging into a container of McDonald's french fries with a satisfied grin spreading across his face.
Mussina had just logged his 20th victory of the 2008 season, altering a reputation that had him known as a "Mr. Almost" of sorts: He had been a runner-up for a Cy Young Award, fell one inning shy of being a World Series champion and was one strike short of a perfect game in 2001.
The results will be announced exclusively on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com live on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET as part of a three-hour live show beginning at noon. On Thursday, MLB.com and MLB Network will air the news conferences featuring the electees live from New York at 11 a.m. ET.
In doing so, he finished on a high note, completing a career that now makes an interesting case for enshrinement in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"I think that's an argument that people are going to have opinions on both sides," Mussina has said. "There's some nice things that I've been able to do. There's both sides to the argument. My numbers match up well with guys that are in the Hall of Fame, and of course there are guys that have better numbers than mine."
This will mark Mussina's first turn on the Hall of Fame ballot, with his fate to be decided by the voting members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Pitching for 18 seasons with the Yankees and Orioles, Mussina compiled a lifetime record of 270-153 and a 3.68 ERA.
"There's no question in my mind he's a Hall of Famer," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "What he's done in the period of the steroid era, unfortunately, in the American League East -- I don't care what that record is. Some people say 300 wins is an automatic plateau.
"What he did to get 270 total wins, with all those things combined -- in a division where the Red Sox and Yankees have been slugging it out ... [in] the toughest division in baseball for at least a decade -- I just think it has been spectacular for the length and consistency. He's one of the all-timers."
A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from the BBWAA to gain election to the Hall. No players reached that threshold in 2013. Second baseman Craig Biggio (68.2 percent), starting pitcher Jack Morris (67.7 percent) and first baseman Jeff Bagwell (59.6 percent) are the top returning vote-getters from last year's ballot. Results of the 2014 election will be announced Wednesday. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas, Jeff Kent and Mussina highlight the first-time candidates.
A five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove Award winner who toiled for his entire career in the American League East during an era marked by performance-enhanced slugging, Mussina was able to win at least 15 games in 11 seasons.
He enjoyed six top five finishes in voting for the AL Cy Young Award, finishing second to Pedro Martinez in 1999. Mussina's 270 wins are tied with Burleigh Grimes for 33rd place on baseball's all-time list, and he retired as the oldest pitcher to record a 20-win season for the first time.
Only five pitchers in the game's history have had as many wins as Mussina while matching his .638 career winning percentage: Grover Cleveland Alexander, Christy Mathewson, Roger Clemens, Lefty Grove and Randy Johnson.
Some were surprised that Mussina walked away after his 20-win season in 2008, believing that he could have held on for a few more years to further bolster a Hall of Fame case that -- as it stands -- compares nicely to past inductees Juan Marichal and Jim Palmer.
That was never part of the equation for Mussina, who realized that his best days were behind him at age 39. There were no guarantees that Mussina would quickly be able to reach 300 wins; in his mind, it might have taken three more years of hanging on.
"I wanted to go out on my own terms," Mussina said. "I didn't want to go out with somebody telling me that it was time to go. I don't want to bounce around from one team to another to keep playing at 40, or 41, or 42, trying to scratch out eight wins this year and 10 wins the next year. I never wanted to do it that way."
Mussina spoke openly at the time about having decided to make his exit while he was still having fun.
"I just felt so good about the season, the way it was going, and enjoying it and not getting caught up in the bad times," Mussina said. "It was like the last year of high school. You know it's going to end, and you just enjoy the ride."
In the years since his retirement, Mussina has returned to life in his beloved hometown of Montoursville, Pa., where he continues to avidly collect John Deere tractors and classic cars while serving as the head coach of the local high school varsity basketball team.
The Orioles inducted Mussina into their Hall of Fame in 2012, and now it will be up to the voters to decide if Mussina's accomplishments on the field also warrant a road trip to Cooperstown in the near future.
"To ask if I should be compared to Greg Maddux or to Glavine or anybody that's played in this era, that in itself is an honor," Mussina said. "People are going to talk about it any number of ways. I'm just glad that I've achieved enough and made enough of an impression that people are going to include me in the conversation."