Thursday, November 20, 2008

We'll Be Seein' 'Ya, Mike Mussina

As a natural-born Orioles fan, I must take a moment to reflect upon the career of Mike Mussina, who announced his retirement today, at age 39.

His success was a result of excellent control, speed, and a cerebral approach to the game. A Stanford economics grad, Mussina was featured in the crossword puzzle documentary, "Wordplay."

During spring training last March, rumors swirled that Mussina wouldn't make the Yankees starting rotation. Well, not only did he make the starting rotation, he went on to post a stellar season, winning 20 games. With his retirement, he becomes the first pitcher to quit on the heels of a 20-win season since the great Sandy Koufax, in 1966.

In retrospect, one could say his hitting nemesis was Sandy Alomar, Jr. In 1997, Alomar, Jr.'s one-out single in the 9th inning broke up Mussina's bid for a perfect game. Almost one year later, Alomar, Jr. sent a line drive directly into Mussina's face, breaking his nose. Blood spewed from his face. The stadium fell deathly silent. The scene was chillingly reminiscent of the tragic liner that effectively ended the career of Herb Score (who died last week). Score never recovered his toughness on the mound; Mussina did.

Is he a Hall of Fame candidate? Definitely. Will he be inducted? It's possible, but somewhat doubtful. Mussina never won the Cy Young award, and never had the defining moments that so many H.O.F. pitchers had. Had he stuck around to win 300 games (he's just 30 shy), he'd be a lock. Mussina, however, wanted to go out on top. With a final act like his '08 season, he certainly did.

No comments: