With former Orioles great Mike Mussina finally being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:
1. My only memory of Jim Palmer’s career was his short-lived comeback attempt in 1991, but nights when Mussina pitched inspired as much confidence about winning as you could have. Since Mussina’s 47.8 wins above replacement accumulated in Baltimore, the best Orioles pitcher WAR has been Jeremy Guthrie at 16.2.
2. I remember Mussina’s debut like it was yesterday as he lost 1-0 to the White Sox despite allowing only one run in 7 2/3 innings. That came on a homer by Frank Thomas, who wore out the right-hander throughout his career. You could tell Mussina was going to be good.
3. I rushed home from my own baseball game to watch the final innings of his near-perfect game against Cleveland in 1997 before Sandy Alomar singled with one out in the ninth. Four years later, thoughts were more conflicted as he was a strike away from perfection before falling short again.
4. Anyone who followed Mussina’s final few years in Baltimore couldn’t objectively fault him for leaving after being low-balled by Peter Angelos, but that didn’t make it any easier watching him pitch for the hated Yankees in the following years. To still hold a grudge, however, seems silly to me.
5. The debate over which cap Mussina should wear on his plaque makes for spirited discussion, but it shouldn’t impact how the Orioles honor him. That would be as weird as the tradition of there never being a unanimous Hall of Fame selection until Mariano Rivera on Tuesday.
6. Had Mussina won a World Series with the Yankees, it would have been tough not to compare his career path to that of Frank Robinson, who spent 10 seasons with Cincinnati before winning two championships and two other pennants with the Orioles. I’ll predict a blank cap for Mussina’s plaque.
7. Deciding how to honor Mussina is tricky since he never returned like Eddie Murray and didn’t win a World Series here. My preference would be the Orioles retiring his No. 35 while saving statues for Hall of Famers who also won a championship. It’s awkward, but still a distinct honor.
8. In addition to his pitching excellence, Mussina won seven Gold Gloves, which is tied for fifth most among pitchers. He was also very good controlling the running game as 39 percent of base stealers were gunned down compared to the league average of 31 percent during his career.
9. It’s pretty remarkable that Mussina will be inducted in the same year as three former teammates: Rivera, Lee Smith, and Harold Baines. I can’t imagine that’s happened too often over the years.
10. I honestly wasn’t as sure about Mussina deserving to be in Cooperstown until I began embracing analytics and context-based statistics several years ago. As others have said, his election is a win for sabermetrics after he hovered below 25 percent of the vote in his first two years of eligibility.
11. Growing up, I spent countless afternoons in the backyard trying to throw Mussina’s knuckle-curve and imitate the pronounced way he’d bend at the waist from the stretch. Needless to say, I wasn’t very successful, but he was a treat to watch for a long time.
12. If the Baseball Hall of Fame had a sense of humor, Cito Gaston would be asked to introduce Mussina and would instead announce Duane Ward. Still too soon? No matter the circumstances, Mussina not pitching in the 1993 All-Star Game at Camden Yards was just wrong.