The Cooperstown case of Mike Mussina

The baseball Hall of Fame system is broken and Mike Mussina has been an unfortunate victim. In years past being a “Hall of Famer” was pretty cut and dry. There used to be certain stats that were the gold standard of ensuring a plaque in Cooperstown - 300 wins, 500 home runs, a lifetime .300 batting average. These were all benchmarks that guaranteed you your place in baseball immortality. Then things changed. The game evolved and unfortunately the HOF voters didn’t. Fueled partially by chemicals (hello PED’s) and partially by analytics (hello Moneyball), these statistical milestones no longer punch your ticket to the hall.
Photo via NY Daily News

Let’s first start with one of the more ridiculous stats in today's modern-day game of baseball: the win. Yes, the name of every game is to win, but wins and losses to a pitcher just aren’t as telling as they once were.  With offsenive outburts on any given night, and bullpens that seem to have an endless amount of guys throwing triple digits, a pitcher could technically throw five mediocre innings and pick up a win. Mussina fell 30 wins short of 300 wins for his career. Now don’t get me wrong, winning 300 games is an impressive stat by any standard, and if nothing else, it shows unbelievable durability and consistency.  But so does 17 years straight of 150+ innings, a feat which Mussina accomplished. As long as managers are worried for their player’s health and hybrid relievers like Andrew Miller exist, career wins are going to slowly diminish, and we may never see a 300 game winner again.

So as this stat becomes more and more irrelevant, where do we draw the line? What is the new benchmark? How about WAR? Mussina’s career WAR was 82. For context Pedro Martinez (who’s your daddy?), a 2015 first ballet HOF entrant, had a WAR of 86. Pretty comparable if you ask me.

But there is the smoky black cloud that no HOF voter wants to directly address: steroids. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the days of mediocre players like Brett Boone effortlessly smashing 450 foot homeruns. Hell, without steroids baseball revenues would have never recovered after the strike of 1994, right Bud Selig? Sorry that’s a story for a different day.

Anyway, HOF ballots these days look like the all-star teams I would create in video games after turning off the computers’ ability to decline a trade. Seemingly, EVERY one of these guys has at least one of the gold standard stats. Whether it’s 500 home runs, or .300+ career batting avg., or 1,500 RBIs, everyone has them. But because these guys were caught or even accused of taking the juice, they’re left out in the cold. Again, that issue is a lengthy blog within itself, but shouldn’t the other side of that argument be given the benefit of the doubt? If the hitters tied to PEDs are being black balled, shouldn’t the pitchers who pitched against them be praised and put on a pedestal? Mussina knuckle-curved his way directly through the steroid era.

1998 – 3.49 ERA/175 Ks/ 1.115 WHIP/5.0 WAR
2001- 3.15 ERA/214 Ks/ 1.067 WHIP/7.1 WAR

Those are his stats lines from the years the home run records were smashed and juice ball was at its height.

Moose brought another dimension to his game that most pitchers don’t; defense. Over his career Mussina collected seven gold gloves, tied for fifth most amongst pitchers.  He had a fielding percentage of 1.000 on eight different occasions throughout his career. Moose was the definition of the “sixth infielder”, bringing a defensive versatility every time he took the hill. I think us Yankee fans can emphasize the importance of this extra defender considering we have to see CC Sabathia attempt to cover first base a handful of times a year.

Having Moose in New York, we were able to see his greatness first hand. His talent got him into the league and carried him for nearly a decade. His first few seasons in Pinstripes were vintage Mussina. His 90s+ fastball, great movement, and devastating breaking stuff were exactly what we all expected. Then his body gave out. His velocity was gone and his knuckle-curve wasn’t nearly as sharp. Yet, after a down year and a half (2004-2005), this is when we saw Mike come back at his very best. He mastered his craft and had a renaissance of sorts (similar to what we saw from CC this year). 

I remember him being one strike away from a perfect game at Fenway when Carl Everett looped a single to center, which was absolutely heart breaking. I can still remember my stomach dropping and my immediate sympathy for a person whom I had never met. He walked away in 2008 as a 20 game winner in his 18th MLB season and deserves to continue into the sunset that is the Hall of Fame. We can only hope that the Baseball Writers Association of America get it right and recognizes Mike Mussina as being one of the greatest pitchers we’ve ever seen. Anything less would just be a looping single to center.

Article by: Jesse Bartley


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