The Yankees Mike Mussina always seemed to be one of those players who “got it”. He pitched with an intensity that was matched by very few. But at the same time, he kept his occupation in perspective when weighed against other facets of his life. So, it is no surprise that Mussina views his rising numbers for election to the Hall of Fame in the same manner.
Yankees fans can probably still remember with wonderment and awe as Mike Mussina walked off the mound for the final time in 2008 as a twenty-game winner for the first time in his career, and then promptly retired from the game of baseball a month later.
We would find out that Mussina, just like he always had a plan to retire a batter stepping into the box, he also had a plan to retire at the end of the season, even before the year began. At the news conference announcing his retirement, he told MLB.com:
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“I don’t think there was ever a point where I looked around and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to change my mind,”. “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. It was like the last year of high school. You know it’s going to end, and you just enjoy the ride.”
“You just enjoy the ride.” Mike Mussina is still enjoying the ride, albeit a trip of a different kind. Today, he enjoys and counts coaching a high school basketball team from his hometown in Pennsylvania as a conversation starter. That’s right, his hometown.
Quiet but efficient intensity led Mike Mussina to win 270 games while pitching in a major league uniform. Only 32 pitchers in all of baseball can say they won more games.
Like good wine, some players ripen with age. And maybe that’s why Mussina has seen his balloting numbers for the Hall of Fame rise over the years from 20.3 percent in 2014; to 24.6 percent in 2015; to 43 percent in 2016; to 62.2 percent, according to the latest tracking data, in 2017. Note: A minimum of 75% is needed for election.
“That’s (making the Hall) not the most important thing to me right now, 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. 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.”
To be sure, Mussina does not have the “numbers” that would make him a lock for induction into the Hall. He’s one of those borderline cases, similar to someone like Jack Morris, who has numbers similar those of Mussina. But the difference between the two is stark because Morris has been known to wander the halls of the hotel where the Winter Meetings are held trying to drum up votes for himself. This, while Mussina draws up a play for his shooting guard to score.
And there are those who say that it’s just because Mussina graduated from Stamford that he’s so “cool”. And that he’s always had this chip on his shoulder as the holier than thou guy. And there might be an element of truth to that except that anyone can graduate from Stamford. It’s getting into Stamford that counts. Because that’s when they measure the boy facing them and the man he might become. Mike Mussina passed that test.
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Put it this way. Mike Mussina finessed hitters as a pitcher while on the mound in the same way he has finessed his personal life. Always with a plan, always thinking. And for that reason alone, my ballot for the IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association of America) included Mike Mussina for election to the Hall of Fame.