This is a big year for Mike Mussina. He needs to gather momentum for his Hall of Fame bid.
In my mind, Mussina is a surefire Hall of Famer. He has 270 wins, his lifetime winning percentage is .638, and his WAR is 83, just below Ken Griffey, Jr.’s 84 and ahead of Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Mike Piazza and Trevor Hoffman, all of whom will get many more votes than him.
Mussina was never considered the best pitcher of his time. Only once, in 1999, did he come close to winning the Cy Young award, when he finished second to Pedro Martinez, who was a unanimous winner.
He pitched in the same era as Martinez, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson, and was a teammate of Clemens and Johnson with the New York Yankees.
In Baltimore, Mussina was an enigmatic and somewhat polarizing player. Fans were loath to embrace him. He was unfairly criticized for failing to win the big games and never winning 20 with the Orioles.
He also played at the same time with Brady Anderson and Cal Ripken, and was never going to compare with them.
Mussina didn’t win 20 until his final year, 2008, and he retired immediately afterward, saying he didn’t want to continue to pitch just to reach 300 wins. He couldn’t stand being a mediocre pitcher and wanted to leave when he was still good.
He left the Orioles after the 2000 season to join the Yankees, who won four World Series in the preceding five years. Mussina was regarded as a traitor in Baltimore, and while he went to the postseason seven times with the Yankees, they never won a World Series with him there.
New York won the Series the year before he came, and the year after he left, but Mussina seemed more than OK with that. He had done his best.
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Mussina’s winning percentage was exactly the same as Jim Palmer’s, and he won two more games, but he hasn’t yet been a serious Hall of Fame contender.
Four times with the Orioles, Mussina won 18 or more, and he did it twice with the Yankees. Eleven times he pitched 200 or more innings, and threw 23 shutouts. The active leader in shutouts, Bartolo Colon has 13.
Pitching in homer-happy ballparks, Mussina averaged fewer than a home run per nine innings, and he struck out more than 3 ½ batters for each walk. His WHIP was 1.192. He also won seven Gold Gloves.
In his first two years of eligibility Mussina received 20.3 and 24.6 percent of the vote, and he must begin getting more support this year. Mussina is going to increase his share from a quarter of the vote to three-quarters this year, but he needs to get much closer to the magic 75 percent soon.
His campaign for the Hall could be compared with Bert Blyleven’s. Blyleven didn’t get even a third of the vote in his first six years, and didn’t gain enshrinement until his 14th and next-to-last year of eligibility.
Last year, the Hall made a change, cutting the number of years a player could be eligible from 15 to 10, so Mussina has only eight more years to be voted in by the Baseball Writers.
The number of voters has been sharply cut this year. Many former writers who are no longer active in baseball have been removed from the rolls, reducing voters from 600 to around 450.
Perhaps the younger voters will be more sympathetic to Mussina. He should be helped by the inductions last year of Johnson, Martinez, Craig Biggio and John Smoltz. With only Griffey and Hoffman as new nominees, Mussina should move up.
Next year with Ivan Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez eligible should be even better, but Mussina should get 35 percent or more this year. Once he does that, momentum could build, and voters could have an added incentive to reward him with his deserved place in Cooperstown.