Moose splattered in the headlights!

May 21, 2008 | Nestor Aparicio

There were two groups of folks watching Mike Mussina get ripped by the Orioles last night at Yankee Stadium.

It was as thorough of a first-inning ass-kicking as you could imagine. If you tuned into the game 30 minutes in, you’d have seen Mussina getting booed mercilessly as he left the hill, Brian Roberts who had batted for the second time in the inning standing on third base after a triple and the score 7-0 in favor of the guys with “Orioles” on the crests of their jerseys.

(Wouldn’t BALTIMORE look better at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx?)

A Derek Jeter error set up the whole big inning and rally with a brain fart by Robinson Cano, who was napping on a simple fielder’s choice that would’ve ended the inning by him simply covering the bag.

The Montoursville morning line: 2/3 IP, 5 H, 7R, 1ER, 2W 1K

It was the worst start of Mussina’s career.

Those in the “I hate Mike Mussina” club, which is a perfectly acceptable position for any Baltimorean, had to feel like they got their money’s worth from their monthly MASN bill last night. “Hating” on Mussina is understandable and easily justified to many Orioles fans. And last night was a glorious moment if you’re still carrying that grudge like a piano on your back.

He left. He went to the Yankees. We hate the Yankees. We hate Mike Mussina.

Like I said, perfectly acceptable. I get it.

But I also think there are people like me (and I come from the “inside” on this one because there was a time in my life when I knew Mike Mussina exceedingly well), who totally understand his decision to move on from the Angelos Orioles and find a place where he could win and not be scratching his head at all of the unprofessional garbage and mayhem going on in that Warehouse and clubhouse circa 2000.

(Of course this is the part where you can ALSO say: “He’s hasn’t won JACK and I LOVE IT!” Or, as my boy David Meurer would say: “He and I have the same thing in common. Neither one of us has a World Series ring. His ring finger is still NUDE!”)

As a fan first, I appreciated Mike Mussina’s effort as an Oriole. He pitched well every five days. He gave it all. He fought MANY battles and was a GREAT Oriole. When he pitched, you wanted to watch. He took less money to stay – TWICE! He appreciated the history of the franchise and the city’s love affair with baseball.

He lit the fire of the feud with Cito Gaston in 1993. He threw at the Seattle Mariners on Rick Sutcliffe’s command. He took a line drive off his head one night, probably the most gruesome moment on the field in the history of the franchise.

He LITERALLY bled for the team.

And his postseasons in 1996 and 1997 were fabulous. His back-to-back starts against the Indians in 1997 (15 IP, 4H, 1ER, 25K) were the two finest pitched games by any Oriole in any era.

(This is just a reminder of how great he was as an Oriole and why the Yankees wanted him in the first place.)

One day it’ll be a long chapter in a bad book, but Mussina and I had a lot of fun together when we were young men in Baltimore during the 1990s.

We were the same age, I was new to the clubhouse and covering baseball every day after leaving The Evening Sun, he was new to Baltimore and loved baseball and he knew a LOT more about it than anyone else I knew from Dundalk.

I learned more about baseball and what it’s like to be a baseball player from Mike Mussina than I probably did from everyone else in the game combined. Mike was a great friend and an amazing educational tool for me to do what I do for a living.

He’s a sports junkie (Penn State, NBA, NCAA hoops, the NFL – he absolutely loved sports as much I as did and just happened to be a better athlete than most other Pennsylvanians). He’s wicked smart. And while most of the media thought he was arrogant, I always thought he was just simply bored by most mundane conversations. He actually had a very self-deprecating sense of humor and found it pretty easy to laugh at himself.

(Although I bet he’s not laughing this morning at last night’s effort…)

He was a small-town guy that would’ve preferred being the most anonymous guy in the room, in the corner doing a crossword puzzle or reading a good book where he could learn something.

I haven’t had a conversation with Mike Mussina in eight years, really. I’ve bumped into him twice, said hello, moved on…

I found it interesting that he opened up and allowed John Feinstein to write a book about him (and Tom Glavine) this past year. A copy arrived at WNST a few weeks ago and maybe someday soon I’ll read it. (Has anyone else out there picked it up? Is it any good?)

I also knew Glavine pretty well in those days (another of the really good guys in baseball) and Glavine would also ask me about Mussina’s contract status because Glavine was on the front lines of the union’s need to hold the line on salaries and keep driving them upward after the ugly strike of 1994.

Every time Mussina took a “hometown” discount from Angelos, it hurt the market for the other pitchers. Plenty of players were looking for Moose to “set” the market.

Eventually in 2001, he did!

According to baseballreference.com, Moose has earned $100 million of George Steinbrenner’s money since 2001.

For that money and the wearing of the pinstripes, he’s pitched in 17 postseason games and in two World Series, zero All Star Games and still hasn’t won 20 games in a season, which will almost surely be the only thing that keeps him outta Cooperstown. He’s averaged 30 starts a year and 15 wins since he’s been in New York.

Reminder: the Orioles haven’t played in a meaningful game since he’s left!

But, as an ode to Bob Haynie, I digress…

He left for the Yankees. It’s hard to leave the Orioles and go to the Yankees and get a hall pass from the fans here even if you were a pretty “great” Oriole.

Believe me, I’m no fan of the Yankees. My Baltimore-native hatred of them and my childhood nightmares of Goose Gossage, Graig Nettles and Mickey Rivers are vivid. All of them – Bill Martin, Roy White, Sparky Lyle, Jim “Catfish” Hunter – were monsters to me.

As a young person, I hated the Yankees with all of the passion that I now can summon for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins.

But during the mid 1990’s, when I covered the team and Mussina was still an Oriole, I learned to respect the pinstripes, especially during their perennial championship days from 1996 through 2001. When I was syndicated at Sporting News Radio, I wound up in New York City once a month doing shows for a week at a time and I spent a lot of time at Yankee Stadium and in their locker room before Mussina ever arrived.

They were a classy bunch of people, good guys who were ultra-famous, ultra-professional and, in those years, ultra-good.

Derek Jeter…great guy!
Paul O’Neill…smart and fun to talk baseball with…
Joe Torre…the best of the best!
Scott Broscious…a class act!
Mike Stanton…always honest!

I also got along quite well with Chuck Knoblauch and Roger Clemens, who now wear the scarlet “S” but were decent guys when I spent time with them.

They had a locker room full of pretty good people to deal with who respected the Yankee traditions, respected baseball and were committed to excellence and winning (some TOO committed in the case of the steroids guys). Of course, this was around the time of the post-Davey Johnson era, Albert Belle, and Ripken’s departure and Sidney Ponson and Scott Erickson’s shenanigans here at wrestling matches and Metallica concerts.

It was night and day, the difference in the quality of people these franchises hired to play baseball for them.

The Orioles had a lot of turds — on and off the field. I knew it. Mussina knew it. Anyone around the team who had any sense knew it.

I reported on it. I was villified by the most ardent (and foolish) of the Orioles fans, who have perceived me as being not “loyal” to the team. The team was a joke. And the front office constantly showed why they were a fourth-place team (only because Tampa Bay stunk worse).

And the results on the field were NOT an accident.

I spent plenty of time around both teams. Knowing what I knew, I’d have TOLD Mussina to go to New York myself if he would’ve asked me.

So, the day that Mussina signed to go to New York, I remember exactly how I felt watching him on the dais with Joe Torre, who was the one who persuaded Mussina to go to the Big Apple.

I was in Chicago at the Sporting News offices watching the press conference and it was a crushing blow and evidence of how far the Orioles had fallen, to lose a guy like Mike Mussina who I KNEW loved being a Baltimore Oriole.

Honestly, I think he loved everything about being an Oriole except the short left field porch at Camden Yards.

I witnessed it firsthand not only on a “professional” level but also personally because Moose and I were pretty good friends back in those days. We talked a lot and about a lot of things.

All things considered, even when his career is through and all of the money is counted, he probably would’ve preferred that the Orioles not be so crappy and poorly run during his final years so he could’ve spent his entire career as an Oriole and had a silver “35” on the walkway on Camden Street.

But Angelos’ tenure as Orioles owner and all of the embarrassments of those years chased away guys like Mussina, who were worn out after watching it go from glorious to painful (and very quickly).

I felt like Mussina’s flight, specifically, was “rock bottom” for Angelos and the Orioles franchise, because we hadn’t had a player of that magnitude leave directly for the New York Yankees in his prime since Reggie Jackson in 1977.

I figured if Mussina didn’t want to stay, who the hell would want to come?

(We’ve allowed Sammy Soda, Rafael Palmeiro, Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, David Segui, Omar Daal, fill in relief pitcher of choice, etc. to answer this question over the last decade.)

And Mike Mussina rode out several years of this mess that Angelos turned the franchise into before bailing out. Even eight years later, it’s not much different with Brian Roberts wanting a one-way ticket outta here before this latest round of Orioles Magic that we’re witnessing now.

So, in early part of 2008 under Andy McPhail and Dave Trembley, the worm has turned at least temporarily.

Orioles Magic has re-appeared and it’s the Yankees who are in the cellar and Mussina (still “ringless” as a Yankee) who was leaving the mound last night with his “antlers” clipped in a biblical first-inning knockout spurred on by a Derek Jeter error.

And the Orioles look like contenders, pre-Memorial Day anyway.

If you still hate the Yankees like I hate the Steelers, last night will be remembered for eternity as a glorious occasion — Mussina’s MASN HD walk off the field in the half-empty Yankee Stadium haze with the camera focused on Jeter and his fatal mistake. Fans standing to jeer him as he approached the dugout.

Who knows?

Maybe the Orioles will be trading FOR pitching help in 10 weeks and perhaps Mussina will be available because the Yankees will be liquidating?

Wouldn’t that be fun?

 

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