decade of despair here in the Charm City that he never wanted or could’ve aptly predicted.
Mike Mussina was always a massive sports fan. In the pre-Rick Neuheisel days of March Madness pools, Mussina was always the clubhouse leader. He did crossword puzzles with Mark Williamson. He talked pitching with Rick Sutcliffe and Ben McDonald. He shared a love of hard rock and heavy metal music with Brad Pennington. He played golf with Eddie Van Halen. He was a tremendous basketball player, football kicker and even was a cornerback in his gridiron days. And as Tom Glavine found out in 1997, he could also hit Major League pitching.
His tastes were small-town simple as well. He married a hometown girl. He still lives in his hometown. And he can breathe in his small town. He’s the John Cougar Mellencamp of the baseball world and the Baltimore Orioles’ hometown feel of the 1990’s treated Mussina well until Peter Angelos started quickly disassembling a franchise and a fanbase that took two generations to build.
Mussina could’ve had a statue on the Orioles monument walk in center field this summer but instead left for a chance to win. He never did win that championship ring – coming oh, so short in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks and again vs. the Florida Marlins in 2003.
And some Baltimore Orioles fans think that’s just fantastic and rich with irony – that Mussina left and NEVER won that elusive World Series ring. Or as my pal Dave always chirps – “his ringer finger is nude. He’s got as many championships as I do!”
I’ll always be personally and professionally indebted to Mike Mussina, who truly taught me what life was like for a baseball player. He was my first good friend in baseball, a guy who allowed me into his life more than a little bit and I gained a lot of respect for the challenges of being a baseball player in the modern era.
I learned more about the real world of modern baseball while drinking beers after Orioles games in 1993 and 1994 than I ever thought possible.
I saw Mussina being stalked before and after games around Camden Yards. I saw a tired, weary young guy making $137,500 per year and living the life of 24-hour a day baseball trying to win and get paid. His most treasured possession was an old Camaro he bought when he was a kid.
It wasn’t nearly as glorious or glamorous as I thought it was when I was a kid collecting baseball cards and dreaming about growing up to be a guy like Mike Mussina. Figuring out road trips and being gone for 10 days at a time. Never having a day off.
And, of course, the bane of Mussina’s existence as a human being? Going from complete anonymity to being very famous, very quickly.
I watched it all happen at a relatively close angle as a quiet, stoic Mike Mussina went from a surprising addition to the 1991 team to being a star in the midst of Camden Yards’ halcyon days and crowds of 45,00 every night screaming his name, wanting a baseball, an autograph, a handshake, a picture.
One night Mussina and I walked back from a post-game beer in the pouring rain of a Baltimore thunderstorm and there were still two young girls standing near