The Peter Principles (Ch. 11) – Letting The Moose Loose in pinstripes

August 11, 2017 | Nestor Aparicio

money – more than Ripken, Anderson, Erickson, etc., who all had to wrangle with Mr. Angelos over the years, either via agents or personally over Italian food at Boccacio restaurant, the owner’s favorite Little Italy hangout, which he later purchased and shuttered.

There were several issues at stake beyond the obvious interest in keeping a No. 1 pitcher who was “homegrown” and still seemingly not terribly disconcerted about the unraveling of the franchise over the previous two seasons despite being privy to virtually all of the drama and chaos that followed. Once the season started in April, no one wanted to be presiding over an active negotiation. Mussina didn’t want to be peppered with questions in every American League city about his “interest” in pitching there next year.

A year earlier, Rafael Palmeiro played out his option year while all-but-begging the Orioles to resign him at the market rate. Now, a year after his departure, which was rightly perceived as Palmeiro tiring of Angelos’ demeaning negotiating style, even he weighed in from Texas in via The Sun on his feelings about how Mussina should negotiate.

“I know this for a fact: if Moose is a free agent he may end up getting $100 million,” Palmeiro told the paper during spring training. “I think it’s in their best interest for the Orioles to get [the extension] done as soon as possible. There’s going to be a whole bunch of teams lining up for Mike. And that’s for a lot of money. I know Mike wants to stay just like I wanted to stay. But don’t give him the opportunity to go out there and let some other big-market teams make it a competitive situation. You don’t know what happens then.”

Mussina, via Tellem as the intermediary, and Angelos agreed to disagree on years and dollars and entered the season without an extension.

Mike Mussina was the Orioles’ Opening Day starter on April 3, 2000 and allowed two hits in seven innings but faltered in the eighth in a 4-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians. The streaky Birds won five in a row and six in a row in April, but also lost four in a row. By late May, the team had fallen apart once again. Mussina wasn’t winning. Belle wasn’t hitting for power and seemed to be breaking down physically. Cal Ripken, who earned his 3,000 hit on April 15 in Minnesota, and Brady Anderson were a shell of their former All Star selves by the summer.

On May 1, Mussina was asked if he would waive his no-trade clause to allow the Orioles to deal him to a contender later in the summer. He succinctly said: “There is no way.” Mussina was in Baltimore until October, that much was clear.

On May 2, the Orioles were 15-10. By May 10, they’d fallen below .500 and would never recover. On May 20, Mussina was 1-6 with a 4.42 ERA and answering questions about why he was leading the majors in home runs allowed and the team was faltering for the third straight year.

“I don’t blame the ball,” Mussina told Tom Keegan of The New York Post. “It doesn’t feel any different to me. As pitchers, we can lift all the weights in the world and it’s not going to make us throw any harder. Conditioning and weight training programs are so much more sophisticated today the hitters are way stronger than they used to be. It used to be a hitter would have to pull the ball to get a home run. Now they’re so strong they can hit it out the other way. ‘Keep the ball away from the hitter and you keep him in the park’ – that doesn’t apply anymore. Even the Astrodome wasn’t the pitcher’s park it used to be. They moved the fences in. Same with Busch Stadium. Have you ever heard of a team moving the fences back? No, the only time there’s a change, they move them in.”

Mussina never said the word “steroids” but the sport had all-too-quietly become infested with performance enhancing drugs by this point and players who would later be deemed guilty ­in the court of public opinion were all around him. But, of course, any discussion of baseball’s taboo topic was never in play during this era. When players went from 16 home runs to 50 in one season – like Brady Anderson did in in 1996 – the conversation turned to how tightly the baseballs were wound and how close the fences were in the new, retro ballparks. Even two years removed from the Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa love fest with “the long ball” and the Androstenedione controversy, pitchers were never allowed to say the word “steroids” for fear of indicting the guy in